23 Wing chaplains host resiliency hike

  • Published
  • By Capt. Gerald Stout & Master Sgt. Jessica Gramlick
  • 23d Wing Chaplain

Comprehensive Airman Fitness, as a program, is designed to equip Airmen with the tools necessary to stay resilient in today's fight.  However, some of our Airmen long for a more personal style of mentoring and coaching.  This is what the 23d Maintenance Group Religious Support Team learned while providing squadron focused warrior care in the largest maintenance group in the Air Force.

In an effort to eliminate the potential for Airmen to slip through the cracks, the 23d MXG RST, chaplain, Capt Gerald Stout and MSgt Jessica Gramlick, are delivering a new initiative to support commanders and their Airmen.  The RST has been leading Airmen on resiliency hikes, full of physical challenges paired with resiliency discussions ranging from deployment expectations to spirituality, relationship issues, and stress in the workplace.  However, it’s not just the event that has Airmen excited: it’s the time.  Seeing the value and need as pre- and post- deployment care, commanders are giving their Airmen time in the duty day to hit the trail with their RST.

It started in the run up to exercise Green Flag in January 2017. Stout and Gramlick sat down with each commander in the 23d MXG and performed their annual leadership needs assessment interviews.  The unexpected transpired: numerous squadron commanders, including the 23d MXG commander, offered to provide funds for their RST to go on temporary duty with their Airmen.

In response to those meetings, chapel leadership reallocated time and resources to accommodate the new opportunities and resources coming from commanders.  In both January and April 2017, Stout and Gramlick went TDY to Nellis and Davis-Monthan Air Force Bases to do morale checks on geographically separated units attached to the 23d MXG during two joint task force exercises. During the January TDY they inaugurated their first resiliency hike. The 23d MXG RST has led four hikes to date, with three more planned. Two hikes were on TDY down days at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, Nev., and two in Georgia and Florida; all during the duty week. 

Lt Col Bobby Buckner, 23d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander values his RST, saying, “During deployments, units can expect several major life events. Whether it’s a family member dealing with an accident, surgery or experiencing medical problems, it’s beneficial that they have their leadership and the base chaplains to help overcome these obstacles.  The chapel team helps us provide comfort for the group and individual needs. It also helps that they are building bonds by being in the fight as they talk to our maintainers while servicing our aircraft.”

Senior Airmen Felicia Anderson, 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief who went on one of the hikes, said, “What I took from the experience looking back was having the chapel team turn stressful days of maintenance around by taking a second to step back and breathe.

“The chapel team helped make us all laugh and brought in food when workers on shift couldn't leave to eat.  The last weekend there, they took us out hiking and we spoke about how even the people that can achieve the most still need to, at times, get away to get your head back on track; and that's exactly what we all did.” 

Air Combat Command, command chaplain, Col Tim Butler, applauded this effort.  “We need to find new and creative ways to care for our Airmen.  PowerPoint presentations and boring talks about the issues we assume matter to our Airmen and their families are not helpful.  Allowing Airmen to form small groups, based on hobbies or interests, and facilitating open conversations about the challenges they face, is what’s needed.  What Stout and Gramlick are doing will pay great dividends for our Airmen and mission success.  Further, I applaud commanders for carving time out of the duty day to build resiliency in this way, it clearly demonstrates they take seriously the care of our Airmen.  If we can do it for physical training, we should be able to do it for resiliency.”

Since the resiliency hikes were inaugurated, positive feedback has rippled out.  Wing leadership and other commanders at Moody AFB have asked their squadron RSTs, “Can we get our Airmen in on one of those hikes?”