JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- In 2018, the Air Force began beta testing Task Force True North (TN), a resiliency initiative in which mental health professionals, physiologists, physical therapists, and a religious support team embed within high-risk groups of a Wing.
Now, Pacific Air Forces commander has directed the development of True North-Lite (TN-L), a PACAF-specific program aimed at facilitating the positive results of TN with only a fraction of the manpower.
“To achieve this end, already established command chaplain (HC) and command surgeon (SG) resources are to provide increased focus on units that are identified by commanders as being at a greater risk,” said Lt. Col. Chad Bellamy, PACAF deputy command chaplain. “Rather than ‘peanut butter spread’ resources evenly across all units so that everyone gets a little, TN-L provides a semblance of embedded resiliency support to the most at-risk units.”
The execution of TN-L reflects a targeted effort to overcome two traditional obstacles when providing support.
“The first one being the delivery of outreach and tailored programming to the Airmen where they live, work and play,” said Bellamy. “The ability to find assistance right in the workplace eliminates perceived barriers and further promotes positive help seeking behavior to Airmen.”
The second traditional obstacle to overcome is familiarity.
“Sustained presence over time allows Airmen, and their families, to work towards the conclusion that the unit caregiver is indeed a trusted resource,” said Bellamy.
While True North and TN-L share three foundational goals – engaging Airmen and their families early, normalizing help-seeking behavior as a strength, and delivering support resources – the two programs are separate and distinct.
“The major difference lies in the manpower to execute,” said Bellamy. “True North brings with it the addition of distinctive manpower billets which allow for increased resources and for support caregivers to be embedded at the squadron or group level. TN-L seeks to garner those same positive results of TN without the benefit of additional manning.”
With True North-Lite, local Enhanced Outreach Mental Health Teams and Religious Support Teams work in partnership to provide intensive support to at-risk units across PACAF.
“At some locations there is a physical day-to-day ‘embeddedness’ into the squadron or group, while at all locations, there is a minimum of focused outreach delivered through weekly scheduled in-unit office hours and walk-arounds,” said Bellamy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges, but Lt. Col. Michael Howard, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, 8th Fighter Wing chaplain, insists that it hasn’t stopped their teams from reaching out.
“We do proactive unit engagement together, particularly targeting high-risk units. Our efforts are designed to increase the Kunsan Airmen Resiliency Team’s (KART) visibility in the workplace, build trust with Airmen and increase help-seeking behaviors,” said Howard. “Recently, KART members put together 200 "resiliency bags" full of good resources and delivered them to Airmen on ROM/COVID-19 quarters status.
“As a result, during the current COVID crisis - and the added stress and uncertainty it has brought - we've seen an uptick in Wolf Pack Airmen reaching out to KART agencies for help,” added Howard.
The vision for the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps, “To care for Airmen more than anyone thinks possible,” has taken on heightened significance during the global coronavirus pandemic. True North-Lite teams are rising to this resiliency challenge across PACAF.
“Chaplain Corps personnel have adapted delivery methods with teams tailoring virtual messages of hope and daily uploading to local sites, live streaming worship opportunities and online religious education,” said Bellamy. “We’re also providing virtual counseling, utilizing AFN radio broadcasts and adding targeted messages to the local Commanders Access Channel.”
Bellamy offered advice for Airmen going through hard times, whether spiritually, mentally, or physically.
“Reach out,” said Bellamy. “Empathy and connection to others are proven ways to build your resilience reserves. Just one small act of kindness a day is guaranteed to make another - and you - feel better.