Resiliency retreats for single Airmen

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Lucas Dalgleish
  • Hill AFB Chapel
"This was the best weekend of my life, period."

"It really felt like the Air Force cared about my situation."

"I learned how to not let the stress levels at work to get the best of me anymore, to actually learn how to leave all that at work."

These are just a few examples of the feedback we chaplains typically get from our Single Airmen AEF (Air Expeditionary Force) Retreats at Hill Air Force Base.

Last year, we took 30 Airmen, mostly "dorm-dwellers," to Moab, Utah. This year we went to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had a blast riding all-terrain vehicles, whitewater rafting and mountain biking. And all of this was mixed in with a series of chaplain-led discussions on resiliency.

It wasn't really a new, groundbreaking concept by any stretch, but did I mention that this year the OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) budget picked up most of the tab? Yeah, that helped.

And why shouldn't it? OCO money has funded our AEF Family Resiliency Retreats here at Hill AFB for the past few years - "Why not singles as well?" That question was asked by the right people at the right time, legally reviewed, and the answer came down the chain, "Go for it!" So we did...

What makes these weekends so successful is, like our AEF Family Resiliency Retreats, we make sure everything - from the accommodations, food and activities -are topnotch because although this is not what our Airmen expect, we feel it is what they, married and single alike, deserve before they deploy or upon their return from a deployment.

We go out of our way to get the best value for DoD's money while ensuring the Airmen feel valued and appreciated, if not a bit pampered. We do this through community involvement - it doesn't hurt that we live in one of the most military friendly states in the country - commander support and a lot of one-on-one time with the Airmen in a non-religious, stress-free environment.

We put them up in a nice hotel or donated vacation homes for our family retreats, and arrange fun, safe activities that most of them probably haven't done before.

On this last retreat, one of our Airmen actually learned to ride a bike for the first time.

The result is seen in the relationships forged between the Airmen and the bonds of trust engendered with their chaplains and chaplain assistants as we talk frankly and openly about things that need to be talked about, but are not always easy to talk about, if you know what I mean.

I have heard it said that the Air Force draws fair criticism when it appears to focus primarily on married personnel and their families when it comes to pre- and post-deployment care. Valid or not, I agree that too often we forget that single Airmen have families as well, although they are not always there to lean on. These Airmen also have to deal with the anxiety of deployments and multiple TDYs.

Whether single parents, Airmen with moms and dads, brothers and sisters in the local area - each of us, wedded or not, have people who care for our well-being and these retreats focus on preparing Airmen to be away from those support networks, proactively deal with the unique challenges of deployment and maintaining spiritual and mental wellness. All of this directly impacts the mission and makes for a stronger, more resilient warfighter.

Indeed, resiliency, in all its forms, is massively important to both the mission and our people.

Like at many of our bases, here at Hill, our chapel staff goes out to the flight line and the back shops, to the gate shacks and everywhere in between not lecturing, but discussing with the Airmen, for instance, the stigmas associated with asking for help when it comes to mental health issues or suicidal ideation, relationship problems or stressful work environments.

You can't mass brief this stuff in our opinion - it needs to be done one-on-one or in small groups. We host bi-monthly suicide prevention roundtables focused on listening to the Airmen and engaging with them in the questions and concerns they have, not the talking points we have.

We use no PowerPoint slides and these roundtables are not, first and foremost, an exchange of information, though much knowledge and experience is shared.

In addition, our chaplains do a lot of intervention counseling, commander briefings, etcetera - you name it, we're out there doing our small part. And these resiliency retreats are part of our comprehensive approach to building a more resilient Air Force.

Having a load of fun is important, but more than anything, the Airmen walk away from weekends like these feeling personally valued that the Air Force saw fit to spend some serious "coin" on their wellbeing.

As a chaplain, I can say that this has an immense and positive spiritual value as well.

(Editor's note: To view a slideshow of the Single Airmen AEF Retreat, click here. For more information, contact the Hill Air Force Base chapel at 801-777-0276.)