JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — How do you talk to Airmen about resilience – especially when a unit is geographically dispersed? When two colleagues and friends at the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing, set out to answer that question, their priorities were to make the information approachable, make the information accessible, and make the information relevant to their diverse community. One way, they discovered, was a podcast.
Capt. Jerry Walker, wing psychologist and acting wing surgeon general, and Chaplain (Maj.) Jim Bridgeham, the wing chaplain, have just recorded the twelfth episode of their podcast, “The Pillars.” The name is derived from the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program. CAF emphasizes the role of physical, spiritual, mental and social pillars (or domains) in the creating balanced lives for Airmen.
“This is a podcast we put together to help (Airmen) with any issues or challenges they may face in their personal or professional lives . . . to help them become a better leader, wingman, and warrior,” explained Walker. “These are general resilience skills (in the pod), and in that regard, everyone can benefit from them.”
The two have worked hard to craft a show that is personable, relatable across rank and age, and full of tips that Airmen can immediately apply in their own lives. Sometimes they are joined by a guest. Most notably, Maj. Ken Corigliano or Air Force Ken – to those who may have watched him compete on Ultimate Beastmaster, a competitive obstacle course show. Their guests reflect on their own resilience story and put a personal face to the resilience skills taught on the show.
Ken was attracted to the Air Force at a time of instability in his personal life. His sister passed away. His parents divorced. He enlisted in 1997 and activated in 1999. He was an MC-130E Combat Talon crew chief and earned a commission slot and four-year scholarship to Saint Leo University in Florida. He commissioned in 2006; however, that process was not without challenges.
“I failed my first PT test in ROTC, and it was embarrassing. I had a medal of heroism, and they put me in for a scholarship . . . and I am not prepared to run two miles. It was a very emotional situation for me. . . I said, never, ever will this happen again,” he said. “I trained hard, and I did learn something — you have to jump into the deep end if you want to learn to survive.”
He said the biggest step for him was to release his ego. He put himself in situations to work with the best athletes and train alongside them, knowing that he might embarrass himself by comparison. He celebrated each time he achieved a goal and used the emotion and his physical senses to harness the will to push harder and further the next time.
“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure. Each success really has to be met with celebration,” he explained.
Obstacle course races became a way to challenge himself while competing outside, achieving a sense of oneness with nature. He said that physical obstacles helped him place other obstacles in perspective. Any challenge is greatly affected, he said, by how you perceive it. Ken has won more than 100 obstacle course races.
Featuring stories of resilience will be a key component of the podcast going forward.
“There’s a lot of Airmen out there with amazing stories. Perhaps the unit knows the story or some friends know how they bounced back, but if (any Airmen) have something they would like to share with us that would benefit the wider Air Force, we would love to chat with them,” said Bridgeham. “What helps us (on the show) isn’t just knowing the principle, but the stories behind it that shows that the principle can work and does work.”
A recurring theme for the podcast has been relationships — building them and improving them. The two cited a directive from the new commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, as inspiration.
“He mandated to wing and squadron commanders (that they) learn how their Airmen are connecting to each other, and that’s such a great frame of reference. How are we helping other people connect with each other to really build that wingman concept?” said Walker.
The response so far from the wing has been overwhelmingly positive. Each episode has been downloaded between 60-120 times and one-on-one counseling sessions within the wing have increased.
While the two hope that their podcast might inspire other Air Force and military units to find new and innovative ways to teach resilience skills, they consider it a success if just one Airman took something away from one of their episodes and made a positive change in their lives.