You’re not alone: An Airman’s journey toward resilience

By Staff Sgt. Omari Bernard 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

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Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress according to the American Psychological Association. One 19-year-old Airman found out how much that word would mean to him during his first two years in the United States Air Force.

When Senior Airman Jared arrived at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, as an Airman 1st Class, it was a different experience than what he had experienced in his career thus far. Jared had made many friends during his training school and found himself starting from scratch when he gained his first duty assignment as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) sensor operator at the 482nd Attack Squadron.

Every technically-trained pilot or sensor operator, when arriving to a new unit, has to complete mission qualification training (MQT) before being qualified to fly in their area of responsibility.

During his first attempt to qualify, and three months on station, Jared received a below average rating for what was required to fly. This meant Jared had to complete two weeks of remedial training.

A few months after passing his training, Jared performed poorly on a mission and lost his qualification to fly.

Jared could feel his morale dwindling after taking those couple of hits, and shortly after he also had to debrief the mission across squadrons, analyzing the footage to identify areas of growth for aircrew, and prevent future missteps across the units.

Although debriefing mission footage is a normal process used to train his peers, Jared felt embarrassed about his mistakes. After a few months of requalifying in the areas he had failed, Jared was back on the line and flying again.

One of his early missions was a routine support operation where Jared and his pilot provided protective cover for ground troops. All was calm for hours, but Jared was unable to maintain visibility on the ground, or his situational awareness, as friendlies began to take  fire.

“A troops-in-contact situation started happening. All I heard over the radio was screaming, explosions and gunfire,” said Jared. “The joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) was shouting - ‘We need [support] now!’”

Ultimately, he wasn’t able to provide the support he needed to.

“There were a couple of injuries that came out of that on our side,” he said. “That was it, that was the breaking point. I didn’t know what to do. I had never faced that kind of situation before.”

Jared had to debrief the mission to the 25th Attack Group and was stressed knowing that, once again, everyone knew it was him.

Members of Jared’s unit reached out, attempting to comfort and not place blame upon him due to the circumstances, but Jared didn’t feel he was living up to his own standards.

“I had to go through training again and I felt like I couldn’t get it down,” Jared said. “I didn’t have motivation in myself, and it was during this time I got a call from my mom that my stepdad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. She said he wasn’t going to make it through the year.”

Jared said he didn’t know what to do. It felt like everything was going wrong at work, everything was going wrong back at home, and he needed someone to vent to.

“I decided that I needed to go see mental health,” Jared said. “I spent two weeks in [counseling] until my provider suddenly deployed, and it felt like everyone was leaving. I felt myself get depressed and another month had passed. Then, my dog died.”

At this point, Jared had stopped seeking help, was feeling lower than ever, and found himself contemplating his life, and whether or not to end it.

“May 8th, 2019. This is the day,” Jared recalled. “I went into work and I was walking down the hall and passed my operations supervisors officer. He called me in and asked ‘Hey how are you doing?’

“I told him I didn’t know what I was going to do if I left work,” he continued. “Probably nothing good.”

The operations supervisor immediately called the first sergeant, who then notified the command.

“We helped him get in contact with mental health,” said Lt. Col. Andre, 482nd ATKS commander.

Once referred to mental health Jared did not return to fly or train, but instead immediately went into specialized care, where he spent six days undergoing counseling. On Jared’s first day, Andre visited Jared to ensure he was getting the help he needed.

While only on the first steps to recovering, Jared shared his drive to return to work better than ever.

“‘I love my job,’” Jared repeated. “‘From here on out, I am going to do my 100 percent best.’”

According to Andre, Jared lived up to his words.

After a 6-month mandatory do-not-fly once returned to his unit’s training section, where Jared went above and beyond to accomplish everything asked of him.

“I felt like I had to prove myself in everything I did at work,” Jared said. “I worked harder than every Airman there. Not only in my shop, but multiple shops. I worked hand-in-hand with leadership, became the go-to guy for everything, and basically raised my [comprehension] in everything I could.”

While he built gradebooks, scrubbed training reports and tackled other tasks assigned to him, Jared also volunteered to fly several simulated events to aid in the completion of his peers’ MQT rides.

Not only was he taking steps to improve his team’s training, Jared took a step further to impact his team’s resilience by volunteering to share his story during 21st Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s resiliency tactical pause.

 “It was great to hear him openly talk about his struggles and how he was overcoming them,” Andre said. “It was also great to see the change in his demeanor and confidence compared to the first day I saw him at the care center.  All who heard him commented on how powerful it was to hear somebody close to home tell a success story, and have the courage to share.”

As a result of his hard work and dedication, Jared was recognized time-and-again for leading among his peers, and where his team had once seen his mistakes, they now bore witness to his accomplishments.

Fast forward to the year 2020, and Jared is still doing great things. He successfully requalified to fly. He also won sensor operator of the quarter from April to June 2020. Jared found himself coming around full circle to the negative events that had happened the year prior and started him on this life journey.

 “Senior Airman Jared is an amazing individual and is currently one of the top people in our unit,” Andre said. “The things he’s overcome, his performance in the squadron, and the impression he has made on people will probably be one of the best memories I take from my time in command.”

The challenges Jared will face will not end here, but he understands that he doesn’t have to go it alone, and that it is okay to reach out for help.

“It’s our moments of struggle that define us, how we handle them is what matters,” Jared said. “For anyone that is dealing with hardship, or just life, there is help and you are not alone.”