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Building upon personal strengths help Airmen, families overcome stress

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sean Evans
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program hosted a virtual informational event for Reserve Citizen Airmen and their loved ones Feb. 27-28.

Deploying away from home can be a stressful experience for service members and their families, especially during an ongoing pandemic that has limited social and professional face-to face interaction.

Fortunately, the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program exists to help alleviate this stress.

The program consists of a series of events designed to provide members and families with essential resources prior to deployment, stability and support while deployed, and successful re-integration techniques after the deployment cycle ends.

Capt. Anna M. Sanchez, a clinical nurse with the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, led a conversation during the event, titled “Build Your Strengths.”

“This discussion is meant to let Airmen know their character strengths, use them to their advantage and recognize character strengths as leaders,” Sanchez said. “Character strengths help you find meaning and purpose in the deployment and your role within the larger Air Force picture.”

In addition to having worked with the Yellow Ribbon Program for several years, Sanchez works as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for the Department of Veterans and said she values the positive impact education on character strengths has on service members.

“You must know your character strengths because it improves your life,” said Sanchez. “You thrive when you know them. They will provide a buffer against the adversities you will encounter while on deployment or even other challenges like COVID-19.”

Among the character strengths Sanchez discussed were wisdom, judgement, honesty and curiosity.

“I want you to think of your character strengths as your superpowers,” she said. “These are your superpowers that will make you happier in life, be more successful, increase your work performance and improve your chances of accomplishing the mission.”

Sanchez took a deeper look into some character strengths to emphasize how each one can be applied to their deployments and encouraging the Airmen to think about their own experiences.

“Let’s look at courage,” said Sanchez. “Since you all are deploying soon or have deployed in the past, have you faced your challenges well? Did you not back away from those challenges? Did you have anxiety from those challenges? Do you have the courage to speak up when you see something that is not right?”

Sanchez opened the room to discussion, asking her listeners to share their own thoughts about their character strengths, starting with courage.

“How can you show courage? Do you think that’s part of your character strength?” Sanchez asked.

First Lt. Aumbirh J. Warren, a logistics readiness officer with the 466th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, was the first to respond.

“I feel like I’m courageous because I face my fears, even though I may be uncomfortable and usually want to go back to a comfortable state as soon as I can,” Warren said. “I can show courage just by participating in this brief because sometimes people are afraid to speak up over Zoom, even though I might be nervous too.”

The discussion continued as Sanchez explored another important character strength.
“Has anybody used their character strength of wisdom in innovation?” she asked. “In your unit or section have you identified processes that are not working as well as they could and need improvement and suggested a solution?”

Senior Airman Trisha Pope-Coley from the 507th Air Refueling Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, shared her thoughts.

“In my civilian job, I work in a pharmacy at a hospital where I have spoken with my coworkers and then supervision about ways to improve certain processes to make work more functional and streamlined,” said Pope-Coley. “With the support of my coworkers, we managed to get solutions implemented.”

Sanchez said that by leveraging her wisdom and courage character traits, Pope-Coley was able to identify something that needed improvement and then showed courage by speaking up to her supervisors about it.

Sanchez said her career of working with veterans and service members has convinced her that maintaining a sense of meaning through character strengths can help get through difficult times.

“I’ve seen veterans who have seen so much death and injury from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom who would go on to engage in substance abuse or have suicidal thoughts,” Sanchez said. “They question the meaning of their existence and if they do not find that meaning, then it’s going to be very difficult to come out of those dark situations.”

Sanchez said she wants nothing more than to help people discover meaning in their lives to avoid those dark situations, and the Yellow Ribbon Program offers her an opportunity to do that.

“I’m hopeful that people will find the positive human experience in all this and find hope and be resilient amid everything that is happening in the world today,” said Sanchez. “Life is not a bed of roses. There are thorns in life but when you find your strengths you will be able to rise above those adversities, build strong positive habits, and get the mission accomplished.”