Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Social fitness: Cultivate healthy relationships with family, friends

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

2/11/2014 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Airmen work hard every day to get the mission accomplished, but sometimes, they inadvertently neglect maintaining healthy relationships with their family and friends.

There are many studies showing that social isolation is a significant health risk factor. In fact, the negative health risks of social isolation has been shown to be comparable to the health risks of smoking, having high blood pressure, being obese or not getting enough physical activity.

Quoting John Donne, an English poet, satirist and lawyer, the Fairchild Community Support Coordinator, Dawn Altmaier, said, "No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

She wants Airmen to understand they're not alone.

"Prisoners of war during the Vietnam War used a tap code to talk to with each other," Altmaier said. "These service members new isolation would play tricks on them, so creating a tap code allowed them to communicate with each other so that they'd know they weren't alone."

In the same way prisoners of wars of the past maintained their social fitness in much less than desirable conditions, Airmen today have a multitude of avenues to seek assistance.

"When we isolate ourselves from the world, our brains as humans go negative," said Altmaier. "Having that social support network keeps reality in check. Knowing that others have gone through similar situations and can help is very important. We are not on an island entirely of ourselves -- we are social creatures."

Positive social connections provide Airmen with a certain boost to their mental and physical health, but also a support network to call on when needed. The social pillar emphasizes these connections, pointing the way to connecting with families and coworkers as part of one's overall resilience.

"When you know you have a network of support, that makes situations seem less daunting because together we're stronger," Altmaier said. "A single tree in the wind will break, but together many trees in a forest are stronger. We're the same way. We're stronger facing challenges together as a team. A lot of that has to do with our diversity and learning from other's experiences. Most things we experience are not unique to us, so the more people you let in, the more people able to help you through whatever challenges you are facing."

The word "social" can be defined as pertaining to, devoted to or characterized by friendly companionship or relations. "Fitness" is the condition of being physically in shape and healthy or the quality suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.

"Life is not static," said Krystal Shiver, an Air Force Reserve Command Airman and family readiness specialist. "Relationships and situations never stay the same. We must be cognizant of the impact social fitness has on mission readiness. Relationships with our family, with our friends, among our coworkers and in our communities all affect our ability to be mission ready. If we commit ourselves to staying focused on what really matters, it is easier to overcome unusual challenges and even enhance our resiliency as a total force."

Networking with others, becoming a mentor to a child and spending time visiting with the elderly are examples of positive social interactions that can cause change.

"We work with kids all the time and know how important it is for them to have role models in their lives," said Cassie Hendrickson, a Fairchild Youth Programs training and curriculum specialist. "Kids learn through models and observations, so if we expect kids to be physically active and they see us taking care of ourselves, then they'll want to take care of each other."

Volunteering at places such as the Youth Center affords Airmen an opportunity to build their social fitness by new and interesting means.

"Our kids really look up to those in uniform," Hendrickson said. "Airmen are very good role models and so we're always happy for volunteers."

Creating these connections is important, but if that's not enough, the Air Force recognizes and values the importance of help seeking behaviors. There are many resources available to Airmen on base including the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Chapel, Military Family Life Consultants and the Key Spouse Program.

"We do several events such as Right Start where we put Airmen in contact with on and off base helping agencies and work with families and spouses teaching them about the Air Force mission, said Master Sgt. Laurie Simons, the 92nd Force Support Squadron Airman and Family Readiness Center superintendent. "To me it's a great thing as a military member, that we're able to help Airmen and their spouses get out, socialize and do something, especially while their loved one is away or deployed."

Altmaier said people express care for themselves and others when they practice their core values, both the Air Force's and their own, and by exhibiting empathy and respect in what's said and done.

"It's important to get to know the people you work with," Altmaier said. "Also, understand that the values right for you may not be right for someone else, so don't force your views on others. It's all about diversity and recognizing the significance different backgrounds, values and beliefs bring to the table. We need to be open. You don't have to agree, but have to respect others. This all feeds into our social fitness because diversity gives us more options to the many situations we are facing as an Air Force."

[Editor's note: The Air Force Space Command Public Affairs and Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs contributed to this article and is part two of a four part feature series highlighting the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program at Fairchild.]

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