Afraid to be the same: a story of resiliency

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Savannah L. Waters
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Every morning, Airmen pull into a parking lot and make their way through the door, greeting coworkers as they walk in to begin their day. Some laughing, some not altogether awake without their morning coffee. But, parked in the back corner of the lot there may be an Airman who is wide awake with dread.


Senior Master Sgt. Kiyon Buckley, 86th Communications Squadron special missions flight chief, has experienced going into work but wishing he could be anywhere else.


“People are so used to hearing all the great and wonderful stories, but there was a time in my Air Force career when I did not want to go to work due to a toxic work environment,” Buckley said.


Described as someone with an infectious, positive attitude and unmatched work ethic, Buckley is always working toward improving himself, not only professionally, but personally, said Senior Master Sgt. Jamilia Greene, 86th Communications Squadron commander's support staff flight chief.


“The beauty in that is he encourages you to do the same thing,” she said. “He genuinely cares about people and their goals and he is always willing to share a life lesson to help you get there.”


Buckley was one of five speakers at a Storytellers event on Ramstein Air Base, Feb. 23. Storytellers, a Kaiserslautern Military Community 5/6 Council sponsored event, gave leadership the opportunity to share their personal stories about difficult issues.


“You may feel a certain way about your work environment and the people in it, and think that it’s just you or that you are overreacting,” he said. “You think if you just keep your head down and keep working hard that everything will be fine. I thought that for a long time.”


Most Airmen in Buckley’s office felt the best solution to surviving their workplace was to do just that--keep their heads-down.


Buckley discussed how he’d witnessed a situation where a supervisor didn’t see potential in an Airman, and refused to give them guidance.


“They wouldn’t talk to him, and when the Airman just did what they thought was right and leadership didn’t like what he did do, it stuck the Airman in a lose-lose situation, Buckley said.


When Buckley tried to offer a solution and figure out how to help the Airman, he responded in a way that still makes the hairs on Buckley’s neck stand up.


“This Airman said to me ‘Just leave it alone. He’s gonna get you.’”


The comment made Buckley pause. He couldn’t believe what the Airman said.


He quickly realized this was no joke.


“Disregarding the Airman’s comment at the time, I tried to approach the supervisor about how they were treating Airmen, but they wouldn’t give you any direct answers about anything, and would avoid the question completely by providing an answer unrelated to the issue,” Buckley said.


The same leadership also implied they had the ability to blackball Buckley on multiple occasions.


Immersed in a depressive and toxic work environment that tolerated bullying and scare tactics, a younger Buckley didn’t know how to handle the situation.


“For eight months, I walked into work afraid that speaking up would negatively affect my career,” Buckley said.


Buckley was weary of possible career implications, but had the resilience and character to recognize when it was time to put those fears aside.


“At some point, I knew I had to make the choice that being afraid was no longer as important as doing the right thing for the people there,” Buckley said.


Buckley sought out council from three separate individuals during that stressful time. He highly recommends any Airmen in a similar situation to do the same if they’re unsure about the right thing.


“Don't be afraid to use your voice to address injustice or toxic work issues,” Greene said. “A real ‘leader’ won't get in your way or advise you otherwise. No one deserves to come to work beat down, intimidated, or even afraid of retribution.”


Buckley had a difficult time in the past but he has not let it stop him, in fact, he believes the situation made him stronger and even more resilient.


“This experience is definitely one that put me through the worst times of my life, but gave me a new perspective on people,” Buckley said. “Not to say I’m not as trusting as I was before, but I’m definitely more guarded.”


Like Buckley, many Airmen have experienced situations like this at their workplaces and they didn't know how to respond. The Equal Opportunity office is provided for Airmen who experience any kind of harassment, and are directed to report the issue. The EO office is located at Kapaun Air Station, Germany, and can be reached at DSN 489-8534.


Not everyone has the same experience, but it’s the high-caliber Airmen in our Air Force that strive every day to make it the best one there is, Buckley said.


“Don’t be afraid to be different,” Buckley said. “Be afraid to be the same.”