• Published
  • By Maj. Matthew Strickler
  • 17th Civil Engineer Squadron

Resiliency is most often a topic addressed by the medical and chaplain corps. If you’ve listened to Lt. Col. Robert Borger, 17th Training Wing chaplain, you know he says you must prepare “left of the bang to perform right of the bang.” You may wonder, “What could an engineer tell me about resiliency that the chaplain and medical professionals haven’t already said?” I’d like to share my story while coping with a civilian death while in command to underscore the personal and collective ramifications of resiliency.


Command has the highest highs and lowest lows. I bottomed out on Feb. 3, 2017, when I had to come in to work and tell the squadron that our operations chief had died after a week in the hospital with high blood pressure as the only symptom. I felt numb when I told the squadron he had died. Nothing prepares you to make that announcement. It sucked the air out of the room.


You may think my story starts here, but it started well before the death. I built the resiliency tools I needed long before I needed them; my faith, my wife, and my friends were crucial to allowing me to process grief and start to rebound. The professional and personal relationships I cultivated with my fellow Mission Support Group squadron commanders gave me a network to rely on for help. Their outpouring of sympathy let me know I didn’t have to bear it alone.


The Air Force provides tools and helping agencies that are available in stressful and emotionally charged situations. As commanders, we receive briefings from the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Mental Health, chaplains, and others. Usually you file the information they provide, hoping you won’t experience a situation that requires their support. Knowing the available organizations and what services they provide allowed me to seek the help I needed to ensure I was able to personally cope with tragedy and support my squadron and the family.


Some people associate seeking help with weakness, but now we recognize it takes strong people to admit they need help and seek it. I sought help from a mental health provider. My history with mental health practitioners gave me the confidence to seek their aid, knowing that there is no stigma or adverse consequence attached. I find no shame or stigma associated with Mental Health and I have been able to be open with my squadron to encourage them to seek the help they need.


I was well prepared to deal with this unexpected tragedy because I had the network necessary to cope in place before the event. I wasn’t necessarily deliberate about building my support structure, but I’m glad I had it. February was a rough month for me and for the squadron, but we persevered and won the Wing’s Unit of the Quarter for the First Quarter 2017. Please consider building a support system and structure now before you need it; you’ll recover faster and persevere when tragedy strikes if you are well prepared.