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Stressed lately?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jason Elftmann
  • 60th Civil Engineer Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Being 34 days from my upcoming retirement I have spent some time recently looking back on my career thinking about events that helped develop me into who I am today. I’ve grown quite a bit since I was an airman basic at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, U.K., in 1995. 

A significant number of events came to mind quickly with many being good and an equal number that were not so good.  As I looked closer at each event, I realized they all caused me a good amount of stress.

One stress event I analyzed that truly stands out is a deployment to Iraq in 2007.  I was a team leader of a multi-craft team tasked with construction of a forward operating base in the middle of nowhere. I was initially told all materials necessary would be on the ground when we arrived via rotary wing and would have 10 weeks to complete the project.  My team and I developed a task list and the timeline soon stretched to 14 weeks. I realized we needed more engineers to meet the deadline.  The task force commander was quick to tell me no other manpower was available and I had to figure it out. 

Fast forward three days and my crew was told that no aircraft are available and convoying was the only option.  We convoyed for about five hours to FOB Hunter. Shortly after we arrived, I found a small fraction of construction materials.  My boss kept telling me to figure it out and make do with what was available. Missing the deadline was not an option.

At this point, I began construction hoping, as we pressed forward, materials would arrive and we would stay close to schedule.  Three weeks into the project we completed 30 tents and the sub-surface infrastructure was in place. I started to feel comfortable with our progress.  Late one night, I was notified the timeline had been pushed forward 10 days.  The commander was pushing me more each day and wanted frequent progress reports.

This time was very stressful for me and sleep became something that didn’t exist as we continued to push every day. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, I felt exhausted and close to failure.  In the end, our project was complete within 2 hours of the inbound battalion’s arrival.

I am sure you all are asking yourself, “What is the point of your short story, Chief?” Well, my point is knowing the signs of stress in that situation and realizing that not all stress is bad.  Many leaders apply stress at the right time and in the right amount to get more out of their workforce.  If leadership induced stress is used wisely, we can do more than we thought was possible, and let’s be honest, sometimes we need someone to continue to use stressors as a way of pushing ourselves to new heights.  When leaders apply stress appropriately, it allows individuals to reach what is called the halo of excellence.

As we embark on 2018, I am almost certain stress will be added to the daily workload for a significant number of Airmen at Travis Air Force base, California.  I hope when you’re stressed and you wonder why the stress is mounting, you will understand your leadership is not challenging you because they have nothing better to do. I hope you understand they are trying to get the most out of their people.