Resilience – Overcoming the Past by Looking to the Future

  • Published
  • By A1C Lacie Carmody
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Though this may seem like a cynical perspective, I have always felt it rings true, especially for the generation of Airmen our Air Force is bringing up today.

Today's typical A1C grew up in a society in which trophies and certificates were handed out for participation, discipline was exchanged for redirection, and the stigma created by quitting because something was simply "too hard" gradually softened.

The idea of fairness across the spectrum that encompasses child-rearing today, though ideal in theory, can have a negative and lasting impact on young Airmen who have never faced adversity. Growing up in a society that does not allow young people to confront failure creates opportunities for self-doubt to flourish, which can prove more harmful than actual failure.

When young Airmen face opposition today, the fallout can be crippling, not simply for them, but for the military holistically; after all, the Airmen arriving on bases across the world today are the leaders of tomorrow. Imagine a world where the highest ranking members expected stars on their shoulders but were not willing to go above and beyond to complete the mission. We try to break these attitudes in Basic Military Training and reinforce the importance of hard work, but what Airmen learn in eight weeks can be unlearned just as quickly when they are left to their own devices after a long workday.

One of the most valuable resources available to the Air Force's evolution is innovative young Airmen; however, if we are to sustain this resource, we must make it resilient to the daunting tasks that lay ahead.

The Air Force defines resilience as the ability to withstand, recover and grow in the face of changing demands. It is a skill that can be developed and sharpened with practice. What's more, this quality is key to the survival of not only our core values, but our Air Force.

For some of us, the idea of resilience is second nature, particularly those of us who enlisted at a later age. We grew up with the rhetoric of life not always being fair, and faced societal opposition well before we took the enlisting or commissioning oath. We grew from our failures; yet, when an 18- or 19-year-old, fresh from high school, who excelled at every turn, is not recognized for simply doing their job, or are disciplined for a work discrepancy, the result can be less than desirable.

These effects can cause disconnect between NCOs and their younger troops, creating even greater stressors in the workplace. The Millennial generation is often referred to as entitled; more than one study has shown that narcissism is on the rise in high school graduates compared to 30 years ago. There is nothing wrong with self-confidence - indeed, it is necessary to success - but over-confidence can be dangerous in the military, especially when an Airman refuses to admit fault, learn from mistakes or seek guidance. When events go awry, the over-confidence is shattered, as the Airman seeks to place blame elsewhere and ultimately becomes a liability to himself or herself, his or her wingmen and even the mission.

The PT test is a perfect example. Here, when Airmen fail, blame is redirected; perhaps the PTL is to blame, or the individual counting for them during the test. Now the failure looms over those involved, creating distractions at work, bruising egos and in turn, affecting work performance. Without resilience, Airmen in this situation possibly limit their potential, becoming an unnecessary burden to the unit.

How can we avoid these situations? Listening and communication are foundational skills when it comes to resilience. By shedding light on difficult situations, NCOs can help their troops find ways to grow and benefit through adversity. Reinforcing the importance of gratitude, even in the most insignificant situations, helps Airmen cope with daily stresses, teach them to set realistic goals and add to the idea of the whole-person theory.

This is not an overnight process, but a lifelong lesson. Our time is precious - there is always too much to do in today's Air Force, and often not enough time to do it, but these skills will benefit not only our Airmen, but their leaders, as well.

Though this may seem like a daunting task, building resilience really comes down to being an active member in a conversation, and not dominating or destroying the individual who may be sharing with you. Show them the importance of taking responsibility for their actions. Airmen who take pride in their work become an investment that pays amazing dividends, both for themselves and the nation.

If NCOs take a proactive approach to resilience, they are not only helping build a solid foundation for our future leaders, but they are ensuring the future success of the Air Force on the whole. As we teach them these skills, we will enable them to train the next generation, creating a cycle of empathy and excellence.

True, there will be Airmen who want that trophy for participation, for just showing up. Not every Airman will seek to develop these skills, and there will still be those who view supervisors with disregard or enmity.

However, by reaching the ears that are open and teaching those eager to learn, we can instill in our Service members the value of earning a trophy not for participation, but for being the best they can possibly be. These Airmen will not only come to respect you, but treasure the skills you have taught them that make them more resilient and an even greater asset for the United States Air Force.