By Tech. Sgt. Heather Skinkle, 940th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published June 15, 2016
Lt. Col. Jenni Pfafman talks about resiliency at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event May 21, 2016, in Dallas. Pfaffman is a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot with the 940th Air Refueling Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Heather Skinkle)
Lt. Col. Jenni Pfafman, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot with the 940th Air Refueling Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, made her teaching debut at a Yellow Ribbon event in Texas in May.
Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments through a series of training sessions around the country. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.
Before teaching in Texas, Pfafman received formal training in resiliency to add a more scientific approach to her instruction, allowing her to mix cognitive therapy with personal anecdotes. She said she jumped at the chance to take an in-depth course on improving resiliency as she was enthusiastic to help others.
"There are life skills, like resiliency, that come more naturally to some more than others," she said. "But until I took the course, it didn't occur to me that these are transferrable skills that are teachable."
Yellow Ribbon participants in Texas May 20-22 heard Pfafman’s lessons on learning mindfulness and other coping skills to keep a cool head in tense situations, whether during their daily routines at home or on a deployment.
Lt. Col. Kathleen Kent, 932nd Aeromedical Squadron commander at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, participated in the training, including Pfafman’s instruction, with her family members.
"(They) felt more a part of my upcoming deployment because of the chance to obtain information firsthand than they had previously," she said.
Maj. Laura Haver, chief of the Air Force Reserve’s Psychological Health Advocacy Program, commended Pfafman’s calm, matter-of-fact demeanor and way of relating to her audience members.
In the past few years the Air Force Reserve and other military branches have adopted resiliency techniques developed from the University of Pennsylvania.
"We can all use ‘balance your thinking’ techniques to lead healthier, happier and more productive lives," Pfafman said. “I’d be happy if attendees could remember even one thing from my talks that could help them deal with a difficult situation or improve their lives."
The tips she offered to her Texas class participants consisted of a simple, analytical process: Get more information about a situation, check if you're using a double standard or other emotion-based illogical thinking called cognitive traps and, when in doubt, get a friend’s opinion or talk directly to those involved in the situation.
"The goal is to perceive a situation accurately and take action based on evidence, not using excessive emotions," she said. "This ensures our actions are more productive."
Examining a situation's evidence and trying to stay calm before jumping to conclusions may have been the most helpful takeaway for the group, participants said.
"There's lots of ways to miscommunicate or misunderstand during our interactions with people, especially over a long-distance deployment," Pfafman said. "We can then fall into patterns of thought that can lead us down a negative road where we do or say something we later regret."
Some in her classes said the logic and analytical foundation of them could keep them more balanced in the future. Kent and her husband, Mike, agreed they sometimes fall into negative cycles with each other and their three children.
Pfafman said it’s tough to break a habit, and that correcting overreactions or illogical thinking takes self-control and practice. The Kents said it will take work learning to turn around automatic responses that might damage an already tense situation, but they will do it.
"All the information we learned can all be tied together to create a more positive atmosphere with each person being more aware of their words and actions," said Kent.
Haver agreed that self-awareness is the key to not repeating the negative cycles and suggested also keeping in mind not becoming so wrapped up in your own thoughts and feelings that you don't ignore how you can help others. She and Pfafman said they hope these simple tips can keep Yellow Ribbon families headed in the right direction for keeping life in balance.
Each year, Yellow Ribbon trains 7,000 Air Force reservists and those closest to them about education benefits, health care and retirement information through the program.