Staying resilient when 50 percent of your unit deploys

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The 60th Maintenance Squadron was extremely busy in 2017.  During the past year, I had the opportunity to be part of numerous high-performing teams.  We answered the nation’s call through deploying over 15 percent of our Airmen to overseas contingency operations at locations including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar and Jordan.  We drove world-class aircraft maintenance that fueled the success of Exercise Cobra Gold, the world’s largest interoperability exercise, Mobility Guardian, Air Mobility Command’s premier large-scale joint exercise, and Ultimate Reach, United States Transportation Command’s exercise of strategic air refueling and air drop capabilities. The demand each one of these missions placed on our maintainers stretched our unit thin. 

The home-station mission never stops.  Deploying 15 percent of the workforce significantly added to the stress of those left behind.  They were required to dig a little deeper to ensure things didn’t fall apart.  Now imagine what it would be like if 50 percent of your unit deployed.  This is often what happens at home when a member deploys.  The family unit’s manpower is cut by 50 percent, but the mission requirements remain.  The workload for the person at home increases by 100 percent.  Many families have children, and that’s like having members of your staff who don’t listen to you 24/7!  When you deploy, your service is noble–be proud of that.  When you deploy, your family’s service is a blessing–don’t forget that.

Fortunately, family members have resources available to help stay resilient during the deployment process.  One such resource is the commander’s Key Spouse program.  During 2017, I was blessed to observe another high-performing team, the 60th Maintenance Squadron Key Spouses, who were recently recognized as 60th Air Mobility Wing’s “Team of the Year.”  Key to their success was that they led with a servant’s heart.  Each of them is a military spouse and know the challenges of military service.  They attended countless hours of training to learn about and advocate for various programs such as the Airman and Family Readiness Center’s “Hearts Apart.”  They built relationships with family members throughout the year, so when deployments came up, the established rapport made it easier to provide support throughout and after the deployment cycle. 

As military leaders, we do a very good job at making sure our members are qualified for the mission and ready to deploy.  Family preparedness is just as important.  My call to action for leaders is to advocate for family resilience.  Add family readiness to discussions you have with your deployers.  Advocate for family support programs on base.  Build these topics into your roll calls.    Forward information to spouses, make them feel welcomed as a vital part of your unit, and introduce them to support resources such as the Airman and Family Readiness Center and your commander’s Key Spouse representatives. When the family is well-taken care of, it eases the stress of the deployed member and increases their mission focus.  When family members feel integrated into the unit, team cohesion is stronger and unit pride will certainly be higher.