In the comfort of her Houston home, Tech. Sgt. Charita White rocked her newborn as she watched the virtual broadcast of the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event held Nov. 21-22.
The event promotes the well-being of Reserve Citizen Airmen and their loved ones by connecting them with valuable resources such as educational benefits, interpersonal communication tools and financial information before, during and after deployments.
White, an Operations Management noncommissioned officer in charge assigned to the 940th Civil Engineer Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, took advantage of several of the event’s sessions focused on mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness.
The virtual sessions reinforced White’s own spiritual fitness as she prepares for her upcoming deployment during the holiday season. Recently married and a new mother, White is also a caretaker to an ailing parent and a sister who struggles with mental health issues. This will be her first deployment in 16 years.
“I have to trust that God will provide me with peace and have faith that they will all be physically and emotionally sustained in my absence,” said White. “In my last deployment, none of these hurdles existed. I just had to worry about myself and my safety.”
For White, being able to participate in the YR event from home allowed her to cherish time with her newborn daughter.
“The virtual event was extremely convenient because I’m still nursing,” she said. “I was able to turn the video off without leaving the room. I could still see, hear and engage via chat without worrying about my daughter crying or missing out on important information.”
For deployers leaving and returning from overseas, the pandemic has added another layer of stress. Military members separated from friends and loved ones are unable to provide in-person support.
Spiritual resilience comes from a deep belief or faith in something outside of ourselves and our circumstances that provide stability, hope, confidence, rest and peace, said Chaplain (Maj.) Matthew Wilson, the 446th Airlift Wing chaplain.
"I do believe COVID shows how spiritual resilience is more important than ever,” said Wilson. “If I had to describe the results of the pandemic on people in two words it would have to be ‘unsettling’ and ‘exhausting.’”
The Air Force defines spiritual fitness as “the ability to adhere to beliefs, principles, or values needed to persevere and prevail in accomplishing missions.”
During the Yellow Ribbon event’s hour-long spiritual resiliency session, Wilson used the illustration of a bridge to emphasize the importance of comprehensive Airman fitness.
“Think of your life like a suspension bridge weighed down by the stressors of life. This could be marital, financial or work-related challenges,” he said. “You may not be able to remove the stressors but you can reinforce the supports. All of the CAF (Comprehensive Airman Fitness) pillars hold equal weight but if one pillar is weak the weight may be more than the bridge can hold.”
First Lt. Ikenna Okemiri, the 940th CES readiness and emergency management flight commander from Beale AFB, said he knows first-hand how important spiritual resiliency is.
Okeimiri, who is scheduled to deploy in a few months, attended the YR spiritual resiliency class to learn skills he hopes will allow him to help fellow deployers.
"Deployments are never an easy experience, but my faith in the Lord is a source that will help to lighten the burden, and make it easy,” he said. “I hope I can be a vessel to make people's lives [easier] out there, so that they can stay focused on the mission and return home safely to their families and loved ones.
During his last deployment, Okemiri noticed some Airmen in his unit struggled with the separation from their families. To help how he could, he created a Bible study and prayer group session as a way to strengthen his own spiritual resiliency and to connect with others.
“I took time out to pray, meditate and study the Bible,” he said. “The faith community provided a way for those deployed to connect with others in a positive way to find support, encouragement and blessings.”
Like Okemiri, White plans to exercise her spiritual fitness both during and after her deployment.
“I depended on the services, revival, choir and dance ministries to keep me focused and calm during that year-long stint in Iraq,” she said. “This shorter period will be spent in prayer and study, and I am determined to return even more fortified in my faith due to the blessings I am certain are to come.”
Wilson recommends the following tips to address spiritual resiliency:
1. Evaluate where you are spiritually. This usually takes some input from others. Look to people that are the closest to you and people that you trust to speak truth to you and ask them for some input on areas they may see where growth is needed.
2. Make an intentional plan for spiritual growth. Put it on the calendar and choose some specific spiritual disciplines to begin practicing. If you are unfamiliar with spiritual disciplines consider speaking with a chaplain for guidance.
3. Join a community. Spiritual growth is most effective when done in community and the support of that community will be essential throughout deployment and when returning.