WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri --
As Airmen and their families navigate this challenging time, one organization is committed to helping keep everyone’s lives balanced and healthy through the pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness.
Comprehensive Airman Fitness is made up of a variety of programs and activities centered on the pillars of mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being to teach resiliency skills and enable Airmen to make sound choices. True North started as a task force that reinforces the Comprehensive Airman Fitness pillars at specific Air Force bases, but has become a permanent organization that will soon be implemented Air Force wide.
The True North organization is made up of mental health professionals and religious support teams to offer educational opportunities such as free classes on topics such as communication, stress management, and problem solving.
“The root basis of True North is that proactive is always better than reactive,” said Nicole Termini, 509th Munitions Squadron True North mental health provider. “The program is designed to get people the help they need before they make a decision to self-harm, and that’s what makes it a great organization.”
True North embedded mental health providers are assigned to specific squadrons around Whiteman Air Force Base to provide specialized and consistent support for Airmen and their families. Providers work with personnel in the clinic, as well as religious support teams, to provide aid and promote Comprehensive Airman Fitness. True North breaks down their mission into preventative roles through education and resiliency training and events, and treatment roles such as counseling and mental health resources.
“True North has given us a special opportunity to work with our mental health providers around base,” said U. S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Charles Kim, 509th Mission Support Group. “Together we’ve done a lot of resiliency operations, where I teach a spiritual resiliency topic, and my counterpart on the mental health side teaches their mental resiliency topic. What’s unique about True North is that it’s been intentionally structured for that collaboration.”
One of the unique features of True North is the facilitation of communication between Airmen and their leadership. Through in-person meetings with True North members, Airmen can voice their opinions and give feedback that is relayed directly to leadership. True North also offers specialized events such as guest speakers which are open to Airmen and families.
“We want to keep morale high and try to alleviate stressors and worries wherever we can,” said Termini. “We want to take care of our service members, so they can keep the mission going.”
The organization has also established a larger social media presence to inform and connect with Airmen at any hour of the day.
This online presence allows the organization to connect with a greater on-base audience through mediums such as the Practicing the Pillars Podcast and Spirit Talk videos that cover topics relating to the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness.
“These practices we’ve learned during COVID-19, like utilizing social media and a stronger online presence, are going to continue even after the pandemic is over,” said Kim. “We’re hoping for a day sometime soon when you’ll be able to get back to more face-to-face engagement, but there’s something to social media and online mediums that really lets you fill in the gaps and has been great for broader engagement.”
Along with online opportunities to promote spiritual and mental fitness, True North also provides opportunities to exercise physical and social fitness that allow for social distancing, such as ruck marches and land navigation courses.
“These events promote physical fitness, social health, and can also provide new stimulus for mental fitness and fortitude,” said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Erwin, 509th Mission Support Group religious affairs Airman. “Hiking and rucking can also be very meditative and turn it into a very spiritual practice.”
True North works with Airmen to ensure they and their families have a broad support system and a long list of resources to reach out to. The organization uses human connection to let those at risk know they are never alone.
With the restrictions and obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, True North has taken steps to continue their mission safely.
“We’ve started utilizing telehealth to provide mental health and therapy sessions electronically through Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or even just by phone call,” said Termini. “We can also still see patients in the mental health clinic for one-on-one interaction, though they have to go through the medical group protocols to get their temperatures checked.”
As COVID-19 restrictions continue, Airmen and their families, who are struggling with resiliency, are encouraged to contact their unit’s True North representative.
For more information or to contact a True North member, Airmen and their families can call (660) 687-3135 or (660) 687-4804.