Developing resilient leaders can be complex. There is no single solution or program that can mass produce the caliber of leaders we need to win in a competitive environment.
Chief Staff Sgt. Timothy White, Air Force Reserve Command Chief Master Sergeant
Developing resilient leaders requires us to deliberately develop strong, adaptable, and confident Reserve Citizen Airmen who can build trust within their units.
Resilient leaders are needed at all levels of every unit to lead teams independently and take smart risks to generate combat power. This priority aligns with the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Action Order which recognizes the need for Airmen to make decisions at the lowest levels as “critical so that we can carry out the mission even if the directives are unclear or if our ability to communicate is disrupted in a contested environment.
The Total Force is transitioning to an agile combat employment model. ACE was designed to respond to a threat environment that requires us to move away from large vulnerable bases with robust support to more distributed, remote and austere locations. To support operations, these smaller bases will rely on much smaller, more independent teams of airmen who can perform several different functions.
These teams need resilient leaders at all levels who can potentially operate remotely in austere conditions and achieve results. Developing the leaders needed to win in contested environments requires a multi-pronged approach that fosters measurable effects on resilience by optimizing aid agency service delivery and providing realistic training that improves both technical competence and emotional intelligence.
Understand where we are
Measuring resilience is complex. One of the first issues the team looked at was exactly how to assess the resilience of individuals and organizations. Chaplain (Col.) Nealy Brown was ideal for this task. A psychology professor who teaches college research and statistics as a civilian, she was able to develop the Comprehensive Airman Fitness Assessment.
CAFRA examines the resiliency of Airmen holistically, across mental, social and spiritual domains. It draws on established assessments such as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Deployment Risk and Resilience Inventory, Brief Resilience Scale and Brief Multi-Measure Religious Scale to develop an assessment model tailored to the challenges unique challenges faced by reserve citizen airmen.
The CAFRA has already been tested on seven units. Initial data from CAFRA has the potential to help leaders at the local level allocate resources where the need is greatest. For example, if a squadron is going through a particularly difficult time, CAFRA can advise aid agencies on how to focus their interventions on a unit’s unique need, such as moral injury, suicide prevention or support for weddings.
Optimization of local aid agencies
To further streamline program delivery to better meet the needs of Reserve Airmen, the DRL team launched the Connect the Network initiative, which operates at the installation level to ensure our new sergeants at full time are the single point of contact for each aid agency and resilience program across a facility.
The DRL team is completing development of its Connect the Network guide, which includes information on more than 30 different aid agencies at the local, state and federal levels. The guide also incorporates issue-focused measures for childcare, health care, wellness, suicide prevention, legal and other issues to help first sergeants tailor responses to specific issues. .
The DRL team also works to improve the effectiveness of aid agencies through Community Action Boards and Community Action Teams. CABs are settlement-level leadership forums that serve to address gaps in aid agencies at the local level. CATs serve as task forces for CABs, developing and implementing community action plans to meet local needs.
When installing the AFRC host, this starts with ensuring that all aid agencies are represented in CABs to ensure that installation management can address resilience challenges with all the tools available. As the CAFRA is validated, it also has the potential to be a critical contribution to CAT resilience issues, allowing CATs to better tailor community action plans to specific unit needs.
Building strategic depth One resilient leader at a time
In addition to evaluating how the Air Force Reserve delivers resiliency programs to its Airmen, the DRL team is also examining how to ground resiliency in scenario-based training. Part of this effort is stress inoculation. Stress inoculation helps to add realism to training by placing realistic stressors, such as fear or inherited error, into training scenarios related to specific occupational qualification standard tasks without adding additional requirements.
These training scenarios are associated with sets of observable attributes, such as emotional intelligence, communication, and responsiveness to feedback. Trainers can then debrief trainees on how best to use these attributes to navigate stressful situations. Stress Inoculation has already been tested in 20 organizations and is expected to debut in new installations quarterly.
As we continue to build resilience, we must also defend it. The DRL team is acutely aware that our adversaries constantly seek to undermine readiness through misinformation. Social media campaigns continue to target service members and their families. One of the first steps in countering this influence is to recognize influence operations.
To help, the DRL team has developed unclassified Influence Operations briefings and social media safety videos and guides to help reserve Citizen Airmen protect themselves from malicious actors in line as part of a larger digital force protection initiative. These products are located in the Air Force Reserve section of the Air Force Connect app available on smartphones.
Developing a resilient leader requires us to take a holistic approach to resilience. CAFRA will provide the opportunity to be more deliberate in deploying preventative measures. Connecting the network will optimize aid agency responses for Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families. Stress inoculation will train leaders at all levels on how to lead through challenges. Finally, protecting digital strength will prevent these gains from being undermined by malicious actors.
“Lieutenant. General Scobee’s focus on developing resilient leaders within our force has been fundamental to ensuring our Airmen are ready to face and overcome any challenge,” said Major General Matthew Burger, deputy commander of the AFRC. “It’s a key principle on both a personal and organizational level. The resilience of our AFR Airmen fosters a competitive mindset that resolves operational issues despite unforeseen challenges. High-performing teams and units leverage resilient leadership every day to deliver a capable force that properly manages risk in all areas of the mission.
“We have demonstrated the success of this initiative as we battled a global pandemic, faced multiple natural disasters and faced numerous resource challenges within the command over the past 24 months. While none of us can say for sure what the next hurdles we will face will be, there is no doubt that resilient leadership will be critical to the success of our Airmen.