Airman's Edge: Whiteman AFB selected to launch peer-to-peer mentoring program

  • Published
  • By Tina Shelnut
  • National Center for Veterans Studies/University of Utah

Everyone has those days where they just feel “done”. Those times when they aren’t sure why they do what they do, why they are here, what use they are, and feel down and alone. It doesn’t matter if they are active duty, reservists, or civilians. No one is immune to the stress of everyday life.

Add these human thoughts and feeling to the added stress shared by those here on base, serving the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber mission, such as deployments, changes of station, nonstandard work hours, and the stressors can really add up.

Airmen are often aware of the resources on base but they don’t always feel their issues are severe enough to warrant a trip to mental health; or they don’t feel comfortable going, for any of a variety of reasons. Instead, perhaps they find that one person, often somewhere in their unit who they trust, someone they can rely on to be there, to be a sounding board, to possibly give us some advice. That person often means the difference between making it and just giving up.

Veterans at the University of Utah have been there. They understand what it is like to be in both positions. And they want to help.

Take Airman Brown for example. He has just returned from a deployment overseas. He finds that since he’s been back, he has been extra irritable and quick tempered and feels like his job is beyond him. He knows it is affecting his relationship with his new spouse, and is afraid he is alienating her. He doesn’t think he needs help from the Mental Health clinic, but Vinnie, the contractor who has been on base for twenty years always seems to have the answers to everything in life, so he talks to him over lunch one day.

Vinnie is fifty years old, a veteran and a married father of three, but he isn’t sure what to tell Airman Brown, so he goes with his gut. He asks him how he is sleeping, tells Brown about how the lack of sleep can affect all parts of life, and have long lasting repercussions. Airman Brown had thought his sleeping issues were BECAUSE of his personality change, not maybe one of the causes of it. After talking with Vinnie a little bit more, and then doing some research on sleep hygiene, he realized he was doing much better, feeling more rested and things seemed to be going better.

Vinnie has no training, but he has experience and empathy. Two things that can be valuable in a wingman.

Ten years ago, Defender’s Edge was created for the Security Forces Air Force specialty. It is a peer-to-peer mentoring program that was developed to help prevent operational stress injuries among the Air Force’s police. And it was successful. Almost three quarters of those involved in the program agreed they would recommend the program to friends and that

Defender’s Edge should be integrated into their routine training cycles. If it can help our cops, then why not give it to everyone? From that idea, Airman’s Edge was born.

Whiteman has been selected to be the first base to participate in Airman’s Edge, the proposed Air Force-wide version of Defender’s Edge. It is being run as a study to hopefully prove that it can be successful beyond Security Forces.

Those people mentioned earlier? The ones like Vinnie we all go to when needed? The University wants to give them tools to help. They want to train them in basic skills to assist others when needed. But in order to do that, your help is needed.

In the next few days, you will see information around the base asking you to participate in a “Reality Check”. This is an online questionnaire to help assess the state of the base population now, and help decide the direction to go in the future. It will take ten to twelve minutes (fifteen at the most) and asks for no identifying information.

Everyone over the age of 18 is asked to take it, regardless if you’re a veteran, active military, dependent, or civilian. By partnering together, we can make a significant impact in the daily lives of all Airmen.