Commentary

May 9, 2014

Advancing CAF through storytellers

Lt. Col. JON WHEELER
310th Fighter Squadron

Comprehensive Airmen Fitness is a key talking point in most speeches you hear from Air Force leadership. This concept has been introduced in formal training and many of our younger Airmen are very familiar with it. The purpose of this article is to introduce CAF and discuss how storytellers can help advance CAF at Luke Air Force Base and in the Air Force.

The basic premise behind CAF is that Airmen, who have a healthy balance of physical, mental, social and spiritual fitness, are more content with their lives and are more resilient when the inevitable challenge comes their way. Physical fitness is leading a healthy lifestyle with focus on exercise, rest and nutrition. Mental fitness is improved through developing coping skills, a strong self-image and a positive approach to life. Social fitness is having a sense of belonging and connection with those around us. Lastly, spiritual fitness involves having a sense of purpose. If we, as Airmen, can find a way to improve these areas in ourselves and others, we will be more successful as individuals and as a collective fighting force.

Leadership and teamwork can improve all aspects of CAF at the individual level. Airmen can support one another by motivating and holding each other accountable and fostering a supportive environment. The focus on CAF also provides a framework to improve the wingman culture. One of the best methods of supporting one another is through the power of our own personal stories.

On March 21 I had the privilege of hearing the gripping story of Lt. Col. Jeff “Tico” Tice at the 310th Fighter Squadron basic course graduation. Tice was shot down Jan. 19, 1991, during the third night of Operation Desert Storm and spent the next 45 days in captivity, enduring torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s soldiers and the Baath Party.

As I reflect on this story and the reactions I heard from the audience, it occurred to me that everyone who heard his speech became a bit more resilient. By telling his story, he put all of our problems into perspective. This aided the audience in focusing on the positive aspects in their lives. To put it in CAF terms, I think mental fitness improved a bit for each of us that heard his story.

Not every Airman has been a prisoner of war or has a story of getting shot down like Tice, but there are several of us who do have a story of coping that we are willing to tell. These stories can offer myriad lessons that can better the mental fitness of others. A story can make someone who listens feel less isolated or give them some ideas of how to cope in an analogous situation. Personal stories add the human element. This element makes the lessons shared more memorable.

If you look on the Air Force Portal, you can find information about “Storytellers.” This is a program designed to allow Airmen to share their own experiences with an audience. There is a guidebook that walks leadership through tips on how to effectively set up a formal storytelling forum for Airmen. I recommend that we at Luke use this program either at the squadron, group or wing level to further our collective CAF and inspire Thunderbolts to be better people and wingmen for each other. Never underestimate the power of your story.




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