RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
Airmen across Ramstein Air Base, Germany, support a massive mission every day, and its leadership is working hard to bolster mission readiness from top to bottom.
The installation is the headquarters of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, and serves as the main thoroughfare for operations across Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.
Ramstein’s host unit is the 86th Airlift Wing, which boasts seven groups and more than 30 squadrons. The base also hosts the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing.
With a mission of such magnitude, it’s no surprise many Airmen may find themselves stressed out, said Chief Master Sgt. John Alsvig, 86th Maintenance Squadron superintendent.
“We work on aircraft that get older and older and break over time,” he said. “Juggling the work, training, and operations tempo is very hard. To add to that, we as an Air Force have a huge administrative burden on our supervisors to make sure computer-based training, enlisted performance reports, and enlisted professional military education are all completed in a timely manner.
“We have layers of stressors all throughout our organization,” he continued. “We also fight the environment: heat and rain in the summer, cold and snow in the winter.”
Representatives from Headquarters Air Force recently visited Ramstein to interview Airmen of all ranks and to conduct focus groups, the intention of which was to drive to root causes of major challenges and to find actionable solutions for the field. Ramstein was the last base in the group’s tour of numerous Air Force installations.
Alsvig served as the local point of contact for the field visit on Ramstein. He coordinated with organizations within the 86th Airlift Wing to help choose Airmen, government civilians, and even family members to participate in the CSAF team’s events, which occurred on Aug. 3 and 4, 2017.
Alsvig added that since aircraft maintainers work 12-hour shifts and have extra duties, he does his best to give his Airmen nine hours of work so they can have the remaining hours to complete additional duties and training. The visit provided an invaluable opportunity to provide such feedback to the team, he explained.
“In maintenance, we have been constantly trying to lean maintainers out of support roles that are not their primary duty,” Alsvig said. “For the period they are doing these duties, they will not be fixing aircraft or maintaining aerospace ground equipment. It’s a constant struggle in our community to put as many Airmen on the line as possible.”
Capt. Alan Kahan, 86th Airlift Wing Chaplain, listed work stressors as one of the factors which can cause morale to bog down. He emphasized the need for leaders to be aware of morale within their units, and for Airmen to make efforts to keep their own spirits up. Kahan also encouraged Airmen to be transparent about the issues they face.
“It’s important that they understand the troops and their stressors,” he said. “The Airmen need to understand that they can come to their leadership when they’re dealing with something. Otherwise they will try to mask it, and it’s going to end up biting the squadron and mission as a whole. So it’s important for leaders to get in touch with their troops and support those who are going through a situation.”
Chaplains are commissioned officers tasked with helping Airmen maintain their morale and also their spiritual lives. They are often embedded with a unit, and conduct unit visitations while also providing guidance to leadership.
Kahan explained that although chaplains have a religious affiliation and conduct services specific to certain religions, their duty to help sustain morale and spiritual well-being extends to Airmen of all or no faith. Chaplains ministering to Airmen of different faiths provide counsel through a religion-neutral perspective, he said.
“I’m here for the Airmen, the troops that I work with, and everyone here on base; our job is to help them,” said Kahan.
Kahan cautioned against bottling up issues, saying stress can accumulate and eventually boil over—often in the wrong place at the wrong time. He added that there are many resources the Air Force has for an Airman who is struggling. Chaplains in particular, are bound by confidentiality and are barred from divulging any information someone shares with them, Kahan said.
Alsvig said he has a very hopeful outlook on the Air Force’s revitalization program, adding that although he helped coordinate the meetings, the initiative would not be possible without its participants.
“The real work was by the participants and interviewers,” he said. “I heard dozens of great ideas during the last few weeks, and many of them were visionary. I can’t wait to see even half of them implemented for the young Airmen that are just now entering into the Air Force.”