Mindfulness helps build resilient Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jannell MacAulay, leadership and performance specialist and consultant, spoke to Airmen about "Mindfulness" at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 4, 2018.


Mindfulness is a person's ability to be fully present, aware of where they are and what they're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around them. MacAulay, who has a doctorate degree in the field of strategic health and human performance, spoke about how mindfulness can lead to success.


"In the pursuit of success, we all end up in a space where we start to sacrifice ourselves along the way - in particular our health and our relationships," MacAulay said. "I'm here to offer you an alternative. You don't have to sacrifice those things on the pathway to success."


For MacAulay, that pathway to mindfulness and success came at a moment when she felt as if she was being pulled by everybody in different directions.


"One night I was giving my son a bath and all of the sudden while bathing him, trying to multitask, he looked up and put both hands on my face and asked, 'Mommy, what's wrong?'" she said. "Instead of being in the moment with him, I was distracted."


The distracted mind MacAulay displayed in that moment was a stark contrast from what she had displayed as a combat aviator, who had deployed numerous times.


"What I found after flying planes for so many years of my life, I never translated the same concept in my own life," she said. "I needed to learn to live life better, and 'put on my own oxygen mask' to serve others. That's what I devoted the last few years of my life to."


During her stead as an Air Force officer, MacAulay said research found that applying resilience techniques to include mindfulness training can help protect service member's mental states prior to their deployments.


"From a purely preventative state, leadership wants their troops to be protected," MacAulay said. "We know you will experience psychological and emotional trauma in a combat environment. It's stressful, it's unpredictable yet, now researchers know we can protect your brains against it."


Air Force leadership actively speaks on the importance of the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, and mindfulness training falls directly in line with the mental aspect.


"I think it's vitally important because the results are speaking for themselves," said MacAulay.


Some of the results came from a performance improvement program held at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and used a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness skills and sports psychology on both fighter pilots and explosive ordnance disposal technicians.


As a part of the program, the pilots and technicians set aside time during their day to take a step back and think, observe life in the present moment, and brought their thoughts back onto the then current topic of interest.


"The fighter pilots were improving their reaction times by up to 2.5 seconds, and EOD techs were shaving almost a minute and a half off of their tasks," said MacAulay. "Now this is performance data. Not only will it make you feel good; not only can it improve your focus; it can improve your performance at your job."


The military veteran and strategic health and human performance specialist also discovered mindfulness training can help outside of high-stress environments and improve cognitive function during casual day-to-day circumstance to help a person perform better.


MacAulay actively used mindfulness training during her time as a squadron commander and slowly built the trust with the Airmen to better utilize the training.


Soon after, the squadron was recognized as Airfield Operations Complex of the Year for 2016, as well as the Air Mobility Command Operations Support Squadron of the year for 2016, and many other accomplishments.


For more information on mindfulness, visit the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence at www.airman.af.mil.