ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne S. Bass recently discussed the importance of mental health care and supporting Airmen. Two senior enlisted leaders from Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, followed suit by developing an 8-week course to help Airmen with their coping skills in the military as well as their personal lives.
The class meets once a week for a three-hour discussion with guest speakers, all led by Master Sgt. Amanda Gilbert, 97th Healthcare Operations Squadron SEL, and Master Sgt. Monique Tester, 97th Air Mobility Wing commander’s action group SEL.
“I’ve always been really interested in resiliency and advocating for mental health,” said Gilbert. “I realize that a lot of people have diverse backgrounds in the Air Force and some Airmen may have unhealthy ways of coping with stress or not have any coping skills whatsoever.”
Each course is built around what a particular class of Airmen need. As such, not every class is the same.
“We know not one size fits all,” said Gilbert. “Every base and every Airman is different and faces their own set of challenges, so we like to have the Airmen in the class tell us what they need.”
Tester stressed the importance of mental health and using healthy ways to navigate stressful situations.
“Some examples of stressful situations may be moving away from home for the first time, losing a loved one, or recovering from a serious injury,” she said. “Choosing healthy coping skills such as music, exercise, cooking, art, or time with family and friends can help whereas unhealthy coping skills could make the stressors worse and negatively affect our mental and physical health.”
A part of the class is titled “Lowering your Shield” which includes higher ranking members from across the base giving insight to junior Airmen.
“It’s a way to expose the Airmen to people that have more life experience,” said Gilbert. “They have gone through their own challenges and tried different types of coping skills, so they share what has worked for them.”
At the beginning, middle and end of the course, Airmen fill out a survey about their current coping skills and mental health. This gives Gilbert and Tester a way to track their progress.
“We use the surveys to see if we’re helping them or not,” said Gilbert. “So, if they stay the same, if they reduce some stress, if they uptick on others, it kind of gives us an idea of where we are.”
Gilbert explained that the class is an important mentorship opportunity as well.
“If we can introduce healthy coping mechanisms at the beginning,” Gilbert said. “We not only give them a good platform to start with their Air Force career, but we’re also building better leaders.”