JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
Sitting on the small bench within the aircraft, surrounded by instructors and first-time jumpers, reality starts to set in. The aircraft elevates, getting colder and colder as we increase in altitude, causing the hair on my arms to stand up. As I look around at all the first-time jumpers, they all have the same expression; the expression that they too are coming to grips with the impending jump. We reach the necessary height and the red light by the door turns from red to green. The instructor taps my shoulder, letting me know that it’s time to stand up; it’s time to jump.
The door swings up and we walk toward the edge, peering down at the indistinct marks of the landscape below. Nearing the edge of the plane, I grip my harness and start to think about everything that may go wrong. Dozens of scenarios rush through my head as my instructor pushes me closer to the jump. Part of me wants to call it and sit back down, but I know I need to do this for me.
With a final deep breath, I close my eyes to collect the swirling thoughts. Upon opening my eyes, I give the nod that I’m ready. With that, we take that leap. No going back now.
While this situation is about skydiving, every person reading will have some sort of life-altering decision which makes them freeze in their tracks. A decision that will make them second guess everything they are capable of, a situation that can make them miss great opportunities in life.
Luckily, members of the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Airman Resiliency Team (ART) have made it a mission to help their Airmen learn how they are stronger than they realize. During a Leap of Faith resiliency event, the ART helped members come to the realization that sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith.
The ART put together an event for the Airmen of the 363rd ISRW to allow them the opportunity to skydive free of charge. The team used this opportunity to engage Airmen through group discussions and resiliency activities aimed at helping teach Airmen healthy ways to deal with numerous decisions or obstacles they may face in life.
“There’s a reason we pick some events like this that are outside of our status quo,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Clouse, 363rd ISRW Airman Resiliency Team chaplain. “The whole purpose is to have them get a little uncomfortable so the Airmen feel they have a little more resiliency and self-faith to tackle some of these life challenges when they come.”
The event was open to both officers and enlisted members of the 363rd ISRW to help create broad discussions because tough life choices don’t lend themselves to any particular rank.
“We don’t even know half of the people here, so it was really nice to branch out and meet new people,” said Senior Airman Olivia, 17th Intelligence Squadron signals intelligence analyst.
Not only did this help open the discussion between members these individuals might not encounter on a regular basis, but this helped bring many of them closer together. Attendees were from numerous squadrons that fall within the 363rd ISRW, but they were all able to bond together as Airmen by going through this unique experience.
“For a lot of us it’s the first time skydiving,” said Senior Airman Chance, 17th IS intelligence analyst. “It helps us build comradery because you’re doing unfamiliar, scary things with people you know or some you hope to get to know a little bit better.”
As a chaplain for the 363rd ISRW, Clouse saw this as an opportunity to truly connect with Airmen because he knows the power that face-to-face interaction can have with individuals, especially out of uniform.
“When we have Airmen who don’t know us and we don’t know them, this helps us build relationships with those people,” Clouse said. “We can now have a relationship with them and now they know who to call.”
With all Airmen, no matter the rank, it can be easy to get tunnel vision or get caught up in the monotony of daily routines. Mental health is still a critical issue in the military and it is important to really take that time out and improve each of our Airmen’s resiliency skills.
“I try to get out of my comfort zone all the time,” Olivia said. “Trying new things to better yourself helps you prove to yourself that you can do it and helps you be more confident afterwards.”
I was certainly out of my comfort zone as the ground approached and the instructor advised me on how to land. As the wind rushed against my face, the earth grew ever closer. Slowly, we touched back to the ground together. A wave of relief rushed over me because none of the horrible scenarios that I imagined had happened to me. With a sigh of relief, I walk back to the hangar energized, thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to be alright after all.’
It may have only been a three-minute fall, but it was an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
“We don’t always feel equipped to tackle life's challenges,” Clouse said. “But not every challenge is the barrier; sometimes that’s the next step. You just have to cross that threshold into the next phase.”