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Airman Resiliency Team: a light in the dark

Captain James Henry, 694th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group chaplain, (far left), Staff Sgt. Marcus Walker, 694th ISR religious affairs airman, (left), Tech. Sgt. Jin Lee, 694th ISRG medical technician, (middle), Master Sgt. Aaron Hurd, 694th ISRG mental health technician, (right), and Capt. Ryan Montanari, 694th ISRG psychologist, (far right) all make up the Airman Resiliency Team at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and are tasked with the overall mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of more than 500 Airmen and family members. In previous years, it had been noted that Airmen that worked in the intelligence career field were among the highest risk of suicide or suicide attempts, and this alarming trend led to the development of ARTs being imbedded in ISR groups across the Air Force as a constant resource for these Airmen. The teams consist of a mental health technician, a psychologist, chaplain, religious affairs Airman and a medical technician. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

Captain James Henry, 694th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group chaplain, (far left), Staff Sgt. Marcus Walker, 694th ISR religious affairs airman, (left), Tech. Sgt. Jin Lee, 694th ISRG medical technician, (middle), Master Sgt. Aaron Hurd, 694th ISRG mental health technician, (right), and Capt. Ryan Montanari, 694th ISRG psychologist, (far right) all make up the Airman Resiliency Team at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and are tasked with the overall mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of more than 500 Airmen and family members. In previous years, it had been noted that Airmen that worked in the intelligence career field were among the highest risk of suicide or suicide attempts, and this alarming trend led to the development of ARTs being imbedded in ISR groups across the Air Force as a constant resource for these Airmen. The teams consist of a mental health technician, a psychologist, chaplain, religious affairs Airman and a medical technician. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Denise M. Jenson)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

Across the U.S. Air Force, there are many career fields that provide mission critical support around-the-clock. Perhaps one of the most demanding careers is the world of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

These analysts gather raw intelligence data, including real-time full-motion video, audio, and signals intelligence from multiple platforms and other systems, which they rapidly process, exploit, and disseminate as finished intelligence products to decision makers engaged across the range of military operations.

With the grueling demands of the job and the toll the everyday tasks take on these Airmen, it may be comforting for them to know they are never alone. They have a specialized team of caregivers embedded in their units – the Airman Resiliency Team.

“The Airman Resiliency Team (ART) consists of the chapel, mental health, and physical health professionals assigned to support ISR Airman, leaders, other personnel and their families,” said Master Sgt. Aaron Hurd, mental health technician assigned to the 694th ISR Group at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. “We help strengthen our Airmen’s resiliency by providing all around spiritual, mental and medical support for our members.”

Hurd explained the team’s objectives are to help prevent and relieve job stress or physical symptoms before they require additional care, as well as assist members in achieving their potential while optimizing mission performance and improving personal coping skills and family life balance.

Intelligence analysts’ assessments are used to help commanders in their decision to deploy munitions against enemy targets and are critical to mitigating risks for civilian casualties. Frequently, decisions made by even junior ISR personnel often have a direct influence on who lives or dies on the battlefield, a level of responsibility paralleled by few other career fields.

“I feel a deep sense of responsibility for taking care of our Airmen to the best of my ability,” said Capt. Ryan Montanari, psychologist assigned to the 694th ISR Group. “Airmen within the ISRG consistently deliver excellence, and I want to make sure that the ART gives our Airmen the tools they need to continue functioning at such a high level.”

In previous years, these Airmen would work 12-hour missions in dark rooms, seated behind bright computer screens and trained not to take their eyes off the screens lest they miss a crucial piece of intelligence. After working a tiring mission, they would then log and document the mission results as well as prepare a post-mission report. In total, they could work up to 15 hours a day and overtime, a large number of Airmen began experiencing career burnout.

But the long hours and grueling workload were contributing to an even larger issue: a dangerously high suicide rate.

“Before the implementation of the resiliency teams, intelligence career fields were among the highest risk for suicides across the Air Force,” Hurd said. “But from 2014 when the first teams were put together to current times, suicide and suicide attempts by intelligence Airmen appear to be declining.”

One of the major things that helps these teams accomplish their goal is by holding monthly “reset” events.

“The purpose of a reset [event] is to get Airmen away from their work center into an environment in which they can be reset,” said Capt. James Henry, 694th ISR chaplain. “While out of the office we deliver intentional resilience training in conjunction with some sort of activity. From trips to Caribbean Bay and Everland to the beaches of Busan, we look for venues that will allow our Airmen a place to learn in a relaxing environment.”

Henry said by building up the Airmen’s resilience in ways such as this, the ART is able to help increase morale, enabling them to stay in the fight. For the trainings, they discuss topics based on the expressed needs of the Airmen, reaching across the four domains of comprehensive airman fitness, ART teaches spiritual principles, sleep hygiene, work performance, relaxation techniques, stress management, relationship and team building, among many other topics.

“Being responsible for the spiritual care is an awesome responsibility and exciting opportunity,” Henry said. “I love that by being a part of firming up the Airman’s spiritual pillar, we get to be a part of instilling hope, meaning and purpose. Along with their job skills, these are characteristics that undergird and strengthen an Airman’s resolve to be prepared to carry out their mission from day to day.”