I'm with you

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Virginia Torpey
  • 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

Many of you have heard or experienced that the higher you are in the chain of command the lonelier it becomes. First Sergeants turn to other First Sergeants, Chiefs to other Chiefs, Commanders to other Commanders, the unit triad to each other. One thing I have learned as a First Sergeant is that everyone eventually needs someone. We all have breaking points. As much as we’d like to think we’re superheroes, we aren’t. There will never be enough hours in the day and there will always be more work.

On top of the usual stressors, this year has impacted everyone in ways they probably never imagined. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. We’ve learned the difference between social distancing and physical distancing. Masks have become a part of every outfit. We’ve seen unprecedented changes, conversations, lockdowns, and protests. We’ve seen suicides by chaplains and other leaders. We’ve seen our youngest Airmen inspire and advocate not only among their peers, but up the chain. The problems people had on Jan. 1 likely aren’t the same problems they have today. In the environment we find ourselves in this year it is even more crucial to take care of each other and find a solid work-life balance. One of the ways I find balance is by playing rugby.

On the rugby pitch, one of the most common phrases you’ll hear is “with you!” That is how a player lets their teammate know they can keep running, including into contact, because they have support right behind them. That support can help you push through contact or take/defend the ball when you get tackled. In today’s “more with less” military we are going into contact every day. Someone or something is always trying to tackle us, and we sometimes forget to let people know we are with them. We get so bogged down with our own jobs that taking care of each other, and ourselves, is often on the backburner. It can be easy to ask people how they are without actually listening for the response.

So why is really listening for a response important? Most of the time when you ask someone (or yourself) how they are doing you already know they’re fine, right? Not right. We’ve all known those people who are constantly happy, regardless of what is going on in their lives. The people that others are drawn to. Some of you may even be one of those people. I’ve known my fair share of them, one of which committed suicide when no one even knew anything was wrong. He was always asking everyone else how they were but no one ever asked him and wanted the real response. No one knew the pain and depression he was dealing with because they only saw the smile he always had on his face and the happiness he brought others. Losing him sent shockwaves through our organization and put things into perspective for me. We have to take the time to genuinely ask someone how they’re doing and be ready and willing to listen to whatever the response may be. Not just the folks you know are dealing with things either, but everyone, especially those who seem to be the strongest. You never know what someone is dealing with in their lives.

Have you ever genuinely asked your Commander how they are doing? What about your Chief or your Shirt? The Chaplain? These key positions (and many others) are expected to take care of everyone else, but are they taking care of themselves? Are you?

Take the time to go home early, put the phone down, and spend time with family and friends. Take up that hobby you have been neglecting because you’re “too busy.” Find someone to talk to before things get to the breaking point. Make the time in your day to ask someone how they are doing and actually listen to what they say. Take care of yourself because if you are falling apart, how are you supposed to help anyone else? And let people know you are ‘with’ them. Because without Airmen, there is no Air Force.