Where do leaders turn for support?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Nick Choy
  • 142nd Wing / Public Affairs

During stressful times, people are encouraged to seek out caregivers. At the 142d Wing, the responsibility of caring for Airmen falls on commanders, supervisors, first sergeants, the chaplain and psychological health experts.


But who is taking care of the caregivers?


Heather Gauthier-Bell, 142d Wing Director of Psychological Health advises leaders to look inward at the same time they provide support to their subordinates.


“The most important advice I give to leadership is to take care of themselves in addition to their people,” she says. “So often our leaders take so much time taking care of their Airmen and families that they forget to take care of themselves.”


Col. Adam Sitler, 142d Wing Commander said he checks in regularly on his command team, ensuring they know there is a support network available to them that extends all the way to his office, and beyond.


“We’re all dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, and we talk through the challenges of leading the Wing during this time,” Sitler says. “Additionally, we’re all concerned about our spouses, children, and parents too.”


Empathy for the Wing’s new way of doing business extends all the way to the top of the National Guard — including the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, and the Director of the Air National Guard, Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice. They have provided Oregon’s leadership with latitude to complete the mission and support individual members, says Oregon’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel.


“[They] have been extremely proactive in placing the safety of the force at the top of their priority,” Stencel says. “Yet in doing that, they also recognize that there is a delicate balance in providing for the security of the United States and ensuring our ability to support our State.”


Stencel is concerned underlying stressors that may not be apparent in every day work interactions — such as unemployment, family issues, depression, may impact Airmen and the mission. His answer: commanders, supervisors, chiefs and first sergeants have been implored to check in on their Airmen now more than ever.


“I recently sent out a memo to bring attention to the sociological and psychological impacts of this pandemic,” Stencel says. “I believe we have done a great job responding to the pandemic, but we cannot lose sight of the other issues our Airmen are dealing with. We must ensure they have access to the support and services they may need.”


One area of support cuts to the heart of many underlying stressors — psychological health.


Gauthier-Bells says resources such as hers are a tremendous value to Airmen when facing life-altering challenges such as COVID-19. She adds that the increase in anxiety is due to an inability to access coping skills and routines that typically help people manage stress under normal circumstances.


“People are reaching out about stressors or issues that they had prior to [the pandemic] which have gotten more stressful or more difficult to manage because of COVID,” Gauthier-Bell says.


Sitler encourages all Airmen under his command to stay focused on the basics of resilience and self-care.


“Balance is important in all things, and is the key to managing stress,” he says. I encourage [our] members to focus on ample rest, a solid physical fitness program, and healthy eating habits.”


In addition to regular exercise, Gauthier-Bell recommends meditation and vocalizing stressors.


“Remember to take time for you and de-stress,” she says. “I am also a big advocate of talking to a counselor regularly, engaging in regular exercise, and meditation.”


Stencel has also relied on exercise as a way to blow off steam, but relishes the little things — take-out dinners and date nights with his wife, at-home movies, and catching up on his reading list. He has also found resilience in both areas of his life — work and home, through the support of his fellow Oregon Guardsmen and his spouse.


“I have a strong sense of gratitude to be part of a great organization and have a resilient wife and family on the home front as we work our way through this response,” he says.


Stencel, who admits he has a passion for history, looks to a previous generation for strength and resilience in the face of adversity.


“Someone born in the year 1900 faced the tests and trials of World War I, a flu pandemic, a massive economic depression, and a Second World War in their lifetime,” he says. “As a country, we overcame these challenges by working together.”


If you need help coping with personal or work-related stress, contact Chaplain Edwards at 503-964-9093, or via email; Robert.l.edwards172.mil@mail.mil, or 142d Wing Director of Psychological Health, Heather Gauthier-Bell at 971-201-5036, or via email; heather.o.gauthier-bell.civ@mail.mil.


Ensure your chain of command is aware of your individual needs, and consider referrals to the Wing Chapel Team, Director of Psychological Health, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or Airmen & Family Readiness Team.