JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas --
The Airmen of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group have a unique mission which requires them to ‘deploy’ on a daily basis. Adding to the stress of being ‘deployed in place,’ the Airmen are in an Air Force community located on an Army installation working with a National Intelligence mission partner.
When Airmen are ‘deployed’ to combat activities daily, and separated from a community of other Airmen, what do they need to thrive?
“These Airmen might not work with other Airmen at all, but we want them to feel like Airmen,” Warf said. “Once they get into the mission, they are full time, 24-7 and are at risk of losing their identity as Airmen,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Timothy “Dan” Warf, group chaplain, 480th ISRG.
The enduring nature of constant deploy-in-place operations presents unique challenges to work-life balance and resilience of these Airmen, Warf said. That is why it is so important that the Wingman concept be reinforced.
The task of keeping the Airmen on track and in the fight was brought to the forefront one year ago, when the outgoing 480th ISRG commander, Col. Brannen Cohee, tasked Warf and others to come up with a comprehensive campaign that would inspire Airmen and strengthen the Airman Resilience Team (ART).
The ART consists of officer and enlisted representatives from the chaplain, mental health and medical specialties embedded to provide resiliency support to remote combat and ISR operations.
Given the challenge, Warf immediately set out to determine how they could provide the Airmen at Fort Gordon the tools they needed to lead in their global mission.
To begin, the team needed to know what issues the Airmen faced, so they held feedback sessions with Airmen who were new to the 480th, those just out of the training pipeline.
“Airmen come here from tech training schools at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas and The Presidio of Monterey in California,” Warf said. “It takes a lot of time and money to train these Airmen, and we want to ensure they succeed. We asked them what they have to deal with, and we received hundreds of sticky notes with innovations, concerns, and so on. We then met with previous ‘casual status’ Airmen who are active in the mission. We asked what their experience was when they got there. ‘What would have help set you up for success?’”
The team found that new arrivals were not adequately equipped for the challenges of their life, job and the combat stress in the mission.
During the day, or in the middle of the night, ISR Airmen at Fort Gordon might be in deployment mode, seeing, hearing and performing in a virtual combat environment, Warf said. “Then, when their shift is over, they go home to their families and friends. This can be a difficult transition.”
This is very unlike a typical deployment, where Airmen deploy to another location and have a reintegration period when they return home, Warf said. The team found that, like other Airman deployed in place, the Airmen in the 480th ISRG do not get that down time. They go straight from the mission to their everyday life, with no break or transition period to decompress and rejuvenate.
Armed with information on the challenges the Airmen face, Warf and his team members worked with leaders to create a program which could provide the tools to maintain health and resilience by creating a culture of comprehensive fitness and optimizing performance at work, at home and in the community.
Warf said as the group worked devise solutions, the word thrive seemed to resonate with Airmen. Hence, the Tools for Health and Resilience in a Virtual Environment (T.H.R.I.V.E) came into being.
The goal of T.H.R.I.V.E, which launched in June, is to inspire Airmen by emphasizing a Warrior, Wingman, Follower, Leader ethos; recognizing, preventing and mitigating remote combat stress; and further developing resiliency skills.
“Our vision was to help 480th ISRG Airmen and families thrive in the mental, physical, social and spiritual domains of their lives. We want to embody the 480 ISR Group priorities, to care for our people, develop Airmen and accomplish the mission,” Warf said.
Six months into the program, T.H.R.I.V.E is an active tool for the ISR Airmen stationed at Fort Gordon.
“Today, T.H.R.I.V.E is more than just a comprehensive campaign,” Warf said, “It has becoming an aspirational approach to life and service for the Airmen assigned at the 480 ISRG.”
The next step for T.H.R.I.V.E at Fort Gordon will be the introduction of Gateway Academy in January 2017, followed by Masters University.
Gateway Academy is a T.H.R.I.V.E initiative meant to fill the gap between technical school and the live mission, Warf said. This new program will be 90 days in duration and will focus on professional and personal development to help Airmen thrive before they are put into the heat of the missions.
The Masters University is currently under development, Warf said. It is intended to continue developing and mentoring resilient Airman as they continue the mission.
“Resiliency doesn’t just happen,” said Warf. “It is something most ISR Airmen have to learn.” And, he said, the T.H.R.I.V.E. team is available 24/7 to help ISR Airmen not just survive, but thrive!