Tag Archives: resiliency

Not quitting anytime soon

By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.
Air Force Social Media Team

Practice? Check. Uniform? Check. Family, friends and supporters in the stands? Check. Oh wait, I’m not competing. I’m at Marine Corps Base Quantico for the Department of Defense Warrior Games.

Being a former athlete myself I felt the energy and competitiveness but also the preparation and skill needed to execute at a high level just like you would for battle. Well, these warriors have done that throughout the Warrior Games.

It’s often said during intramural Air Force sports that there is no rank on the field or on the court in the art of competition. I personally think that is said because it allows you to relax and just have fun and compete. Throughout my interactions with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Team, I couldn’t distinguish if I was speaking with a captain, chief master sergeant or airman basic.

One thing I can say as a former high school athlete and a non-commissioned officer in the world’s greatest Air Force is that these athletes move as one despite their challenges. They have to overcome anxiety or find the physical strength to endure a now rigorous activity that beforehand seemed as though it was second nature.

These warriors help paint a beautiful, harmonious picture of what it means to be a United States Airman and uphold the core values in and out of uniform.

The Road to Recovery

By Retired Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh

Archery
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh, draws his bow back during training for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. , June 19-28, 2015. Waugh is competing in shooting and archery in this year’s games. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/Released)

My story began in 2006 the day after Christmas while I was on my third deployment to Iraq as a tactical air control party Airman. My team and I were on patrol in Sadr City, Iraq, completing a blocking operation for a special operations team that was on a mission.

As we provided protection for the special operations team, there was a blast from a rocket propelled grenade launcher that hit my vehicle and knocked me out of the turret. We all were fine, but while my team was EXFIL-ing (removing personnel from a hostile environment), we were hit again. Next thing I know, I woke up and was lying on the ground. I have never really spoken about this.

One of the guys in my truck was killed. My driver lost his leg, and I woke up fine.

So I thought.

After the deployment, I came home and enjoyed life for five months before I was tasked to deploy again. Little did I understand the injuries I had suffered. I sustained a brain injury and a broken back, and I blew out my right ear drum, which left me with significant balance issues (not allowing me to run anymore or walk quickly).

Through a friend of a friend, I was able to meet athletes from the Wounded Warrior Program. I always knew there was a program specifically for wounded warriors, but I never knew the full extent of the adaptive sports program. So I went to see what this was all about.

I thought I had recovered; I thought I was resilient. I mean, I went back to a war zone three times after getting blown up. I thought nothing could faze me.

In February 2015, I went to an Air Force Wounded Warrior camp known as ”Trials,” three months after having back surgery. On day one, I wanted go home as I decided this wasn’t for me.

Although I wanted to leave, I stuck it out for two days, and I made the team. However, I started to realize I hadn’t recovered. It had been eight years since getting injured, and I never knew that I was still struggling with things. Slowly, I eventually began to open up to people on the team. This is when my healing process began.

Robin Hood
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh, celebrates hitting a “Robin Hood” during his archery practice at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. , June 19-28, 2015. A “Robin Hood” is when the archer hits another arrow of theirs dead on into the end of the arrow on the target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/Released)

Because I made the team, I was able to work and meet additional athletes at a training camp held at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in preparation for the Warrior Games. This is when I met the amazing people of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports Program. This is when it clicked.

There are pillars of resiliency, and socially I wasn’t there. I had dealt physically, mentally, spiritually, etc., but socially, I had shut out the Air Force. I began to open up more socially in the Air Force and speak to the other members of the wounded warrior team. I started to hear their stories and get to actually know the other people, realizing I wasn’t alone. That is when I realized how great the Wounded Warrior Program is, and I began to put myself back together.

Now I am here today getting ready to compete in the Warrior Games, and I’m still progressing in my healing process.

It has been a long road to get here. I know everyone has his or her own struggles and road to travel. There are people in different stages; it can take years to really feel like you are there. But I am here, and I didn’t think I was going to be here. But I am happy that I am.

Spiritual resilience

By Airman 1st Class Ariel D. Delgado
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

The holiday season is a time for joy and celebration, but some Airmen may consider it the most challenging time of the year.

Although resiliency training is an important part of our Air Force, Airmen may have a difficult time implementing the skills they learn into their lifestyles. Practicing the pillars of resiliency during the holidays, as well as throughout the year, is crucial.

Understanding the physical, social and mental pillars of resiliency can be simple, but many don’t fully comprehend the meaning of spiritual resilience. So, what is spiritual resilience?

Continue reading Spiritual resilience

Step up to address toxic leadership

By Chief Master Sgt. Grengs
52nd Fighter Wing Command Chief

Whether we like to admit it or not, toxic leaders exist in our Air Force, from front line supervisors to commanding officers.

Every Airman must recognize and confront toxic leadership because it undermines good order and discipline, corrupts the force from the inside out and is counter to a healthy organizational climate.

What does toxic leadership look like?

There’s a wide spectrum of toxic leadership. Some people are clearly toxic leaders, while others walk the line between directive and toxic.

On one side, there’s the over-the-top, narcissistic, power-hungry leader who threatens, controls and can never admit his or her faults. On the other, there’s the frontline supervisor who simply doesn’t create an environment where Airmen want to contribute to the mission, and they are not encouraged to reach their fullest potential.

Some people are overly directive, aggressive or obsessive compulsive making them susceptible to exhibiting toxic leadership behaviors when in a position of power.

Unfortunately, these leaders act and make decisions to benefit themselves, not their people. Toxic leaders can be disrespectful to those they lead; they create a negative environment of manipulation and fear.

To an outsider, that particular work center ruled by a toxic leader may look effective, simply because tasks are completed and deadlines are met. But in the end, such leadership rots away the purpose and motivation of our great force and that damages mission success. More importantly, it damages people.

People don’t complete tasks because they are empowered under toxic leaders … they complete tasks because it is what they are told to do, and they fear being ostracized and or retaliated against.

Yet most of the time, toxic leaders don’t even know they are the problem; in their eyes, their behavior is perfectly acceptable.

What do you do if you are working for a toxic leader?

Unfortunately, there’s really no clear answer because every situation is different. There are a couple options: confront the toxic leader directly, seek guidance and/or support from the chain-of-command, document the situation during a Unit Climate Assessment, discuss it during an Airman-to-Inspector General interview, or address the problem with the Military Equal Opportunity office.

I’ll be honest, working for a toxic leader can be hard considering the power and authority they have over you. Confronting the toxic leader directly about his or her behaviors or reporting the problem can be downright paralyzing – it requires courage. Given this, many simply choose to endure the toxic environment rather than step up to address it.

But if we don’t step up and confront toxic leadership, the environment and organizational climate will not change for the better and potentially more Airmen will suffer. Coming forward may inspire others to step up and speak out too. Change often begins with the courage of one Airman. I have seen many cases in which the toxic leader is removed from a position of power and influence.

How can you make change in an organization?

This is where mentorship at every level comes in: we CAN eliminate toxic leadership within our organizations by taking the opportunity to step up and help create a healthy working environment.

Although stepping in and taking a stand may require people to break out of their comfort zone; we can’t tolerate, condone or ignore problematic behavior. We CAN create an environment of accountability, dignity and respect that rejects leading by fear and manipulation.

Ridding the Air Force of toxic leadership contributes to a simple but vital goal: reaching an ideal state where people are treated fairly and valued for who they are regardless of what’s on their collars or sleeves.

At this point, where ever we are in our careers, we need to look in the mirror and evaluate ourselves honestly: could we be toxic?

We must promote an organizational culture where individuals can thrive, feel respected for who they are and are valued for their contributions to the mission. This is vital to winning the fight, strengthening the team, and shaping the future as Airmen in the world’s greatest Air Force.

In the end, if you treat people with dignity and respect, you can inspire and motivate people to go above and beyond the mission. And that’s real leadership.

Finding light through darkness

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan
Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

lightindarknessKeeping a secret that defines you, that has shaped your life for nearly three years now and is sure to shape the rest, a secret that you go to sleep with every night and wake to every morning is sometimes hard to keep trapped inside.

I could probably go my entire life without revealing the sad truth that I was raped, but to stay silent is to allow individuals who prey upon the innocent to flourish.

Exactly one day after photographing Airmen proudly marching through the streets of a city receiving joyous responses and unanimous support for their sacrifice of service to the United States of America, I was sexually assaulted by a male Airman.

That secret is one that took me nearly a year to even reveal to my mother and I have yet to reveal to the majority of my family or friends. The Airmen I serve alongside every day have no idea that I’m a victim of sexual assault – until now.

Some people may wonder why I would reveal my story in such a public forum, and the truth is I hope this story reaches a person, a son, a friend or even an Airman who has been sexually assaulted, and it allows them some peace in knowing they are not alone no matter how dark their days may seem.

In my case, I reported my assault within a matter of days because I knew if I buried the truth it would overcome me and the result would be fatal. I initially filed a restricted report, but once I gained strength and understanding of my situation I then filed an unrestricted report.

After being sexually assaulted, many victims, including myself, are very confused about the situation and blame themselves for what happened. Large amounts of alcohol, isolation and subduing played a huge factor in my sexual assault. You can imagine waking to this reality the next morning as if it were a nightmare, but this nightmare was real and would continue to play over and over again in my head for months following the assault.

Filing an unrestricted report opened me up to a world of re-victimization. The Office of Special Investigations called me within hours of filing my unrestricted report to conduct an interview. The interview consisted of me recounting my sexual assault down to the minutest detail. I understood the interview must be done to gather evidence to potentially bring the perpetrator to justice, but no matter how many people warned me of that interview I could never have been prepared.

I am not discouraging victims from filing an unrestricted report, but they shouldn’t walk in blindly. Reliving one’s experience is painful. Yet, by involving law enforcement, you just might prevent another sexual assault.

The effects of my sexual assault, filing an unrestricted report and knowing the perpetrator was still at the base I lived on started to pour into my work. Less than six months prior to my assault I was chosen by my office to sit in front of the Below the Zone board with the intent to achieve the rank of senior airman well before others because of my dedication to service and my craft. You can imagine how strange it may seem to leadership that an Airman who was considered one of the best in an office could all of a sudden change.

There was a large amount of misunderstanding between me and my office. I was not willing to reveal my situation to them and in return it left them with little knowledge of why I was not performing as well, coming in late and almost not there, in a sense, even when I was.

I struggled to find sleep every night, and even when I did, I would wake hourly from a dream relating to my sexual assault. When I would try and do my job, my mind was always replaying the incident over and over again. I became isolated and constantly worried people knew about my situation, which caused me a great deal of anxiety.

I cannot lie, I did think about suicide for some time, but it never came to that thankfully.

One day while photographing a flying squadron at my base I had what I call a moment of clarity. I spent the majority of the day photographing Airmen fixing engines, marshalling aircraft and everything in-between. It wasn’t until I returned to my dorm at night that I realized I had not thought once about my sexual assault or even the struggles in my office. I was free for a day.

That day didn’t last very long though. Once I laid my head down that night all of it came roaring back into my brain. A short amount of relief, but still it was a silence I had not heard in so long. That night, I decided if I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live, but knew I could not take my own life, that I would give myself to the one thing that silenced it all … photography.

I started slow, and when I arrived at my new base thanks to a humanitarian assignment, I still had some hurdles to overcome. But, through counseling and a steady diet of photography, I was moving forward for the first time in a long time. Even now, years after being sexually assaulted and dealing with being misunderstood, every time I raise the camera up to my right eye I feel peace, I hear nothing and see everything.

Life is definitely different for me now. When I devoted my life to photography nearly three years ago, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant and still don’t. But, photography keeps me breathing, keeps me feeling, keeps me alive. I constantly search for the light that brings silence to my pain.

Being a victim of sexual assault is not something that is easily described, but to put it into perspective, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder not only from the assault, but the prolonged exposure to a hostile environment at my base that plagues me to this day. I still struggle to find sleep, struggle to communicate with others and most of all I struggle with the idea of sharing my life with another person.

The person who raped me had no regard for how the assault would affect me. The crime he committed has little to do with passion and a lot to do with control, manipulation and taking power away from someone. Through this commentary I hope to regain some of that power and control he stripped from me and give other victims of sexual assault some as well.

Very few men report being sexually assaulted and I believe that is because they fear how society will view them, how they’ll be judged and how they even may be considered less of a man. So I ask everyone who reads this: I am a male and I was sexually assaulted — do you think less of me?

PHOTO: Senior Airman Dennis Sloan walks on the flightline in search of a photo May 5, 2013 at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. A victim of sexual assault, Sloan says his passion for photography keeps him breathing and offers solace from his otherwise painful memories. Sloan is a 628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs photojournalist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman George Goslin/Released)