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Demonstrate, encourage personal wellness

Wellness sign

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Heather McNeil holds a sign on Wellness on the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus in East Tennessee, December 11, 2019, as part of a staff and faculty commentary series on the organization’s lines of effort. Sergeant McNeil is a professional military education instructor for the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. --

Editor’s note: Commentary by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Heather McNeil. This is the fifth article in an ongoing series in which the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff and faculty share their perspectives and spark discussion about the organization’s lines of effort.

One of the hardest things about being an NCO is managing your wellness.

How do you square working more than 40 hours a week and maintaining physical fitness with the desire to be a great spouse and parent? How can you pay attention to helping to build a better community when you are pulled in a thousand different directions already? Where, if anywhere, does your faith fit? How can you stop being a victim of your own life?

There are so many demands on us as members of the profession of arms. It can be overwhelming trying to meet all of these demands and retain some semblance of sanity.

As NCOs, we are expected to demonstrate our core values, display resiliency, and be great leaders while maintaining balance with work and home life. We must be masters of personal wellness if we are to succeed in these endeavors. Managing wellness will help us control stress, be more productive, and feel better, all while pursuing excellence.

I learned about the four pillars of resiliency for years as a member of the Air Force, but what is the definition of wellness? If you were to Google it, you would come up with several different ideas. “The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.” – Merriam-Webster “A multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.” – definitionofwellness.com “An active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” – National Wellness Institute.

As you can see, wellness is more than being free from illness. It is a dynamic process of change and growth. So, how does this relate to our four pillars of resiliency? When you look up wellness, there are 7-8 dimensions that are generally accepted. They always include the four pillars of physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. Some additional dimensions of wellness include intellectual, financial, occupational, and environmental. These are often overlooked in our discussions of resiliency, and I think we miss out on helping each other as a result.

I have learned the value of wellness by being at the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee. I came here with a good grasp of the four pillars. I had a consistently healthy diet, I was an avid runner, I was actively pursuing my faith by being involved in spiritual activities and communities, and I used all of those to help my emotional health when things got trying. I felt like I was resilient, but somehow, I was still struggling with feeling well.

Since being here, I have become a part of a team that consistently pushes each other to be better. My team members do that not merely by encouraging, but by doing it alongside.

The first thing that I was a part of when I arrived here was a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. We were all different fitness levels, experience levels, equipment levels, but we had the best time going on an adventure together. Those members became my stability as things got very trying with my husband being sick and not moving with me right away, as we had expected. They captured me when I was on my way in to instruct in tears and helped me feel supported so that I could make it through the day in front of students. They helped me juggle meal planning for the family and figure out how to secure childcare that I had not anticipated. They made my environment feel safe.

The next thing that I became a part of when I got here was the Biggest Loser Challenge. It was not about who lost the most weight, but about encouraging each other in the journey to work out, eat healthily, and be a better version of yourself.

I had never been a part of a team that was so encouraging and supportive. This team is continually training with me and challenging me physically. We have book clubs and stimulating intellectual conversations. I know where I fit into the team and how I make a difference in shaping the culture of our Air Force by encouraging growth in our rising Senior NCOs. I finally have occupational and environmental wellness, and it has made all the difference.

You can see how vital personal wellness is to your interpersonal relationships and work productivity. Being aware of these concepts can help you set goals and work towards time management to be able to bring balance to better meet the demands placed on you.

Being in the classroom or at a new assignment will bring new challenges. If you can effectively manage the stressors in your environment by paying attention to all the dimensions of wellness, you will be a more effective leader and example to your students and peers.

As EPME educators, we are in the business of shaping future generations. If we can demonstrate and encourage personal wellness, we can facilitate a culture change. It is our job to teach Airmen to be successful. According to wellness proponent Andrew Garrison, “I know I’ve succeeded when I get people to believe in themselves.” So go out and create a new generation of wellness!

Being on team TEC where I know that I am supported, encouraged, valued, and challenged, has helped me to reach a level of wellness that I only dreamed of previously. If you are not experiencing these things, is it because nobody is offering to come alongside and walk your journey with you, or are you refusing to let them walk with you into wellness?

(Sergeant McNeil is a senior professional military education instructor for the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center.)