Raw resilience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steve Stanley
  • Headquarters Air Combat Command Public Affairs
It happened when she was 21, in an abusive marriage and new to the Air Force. No stranger to the challenges of life, growing up just trying to get by in St. Louis, Mo., this tragedy would be the hardest test of faith in her life.

"I remember getting the phone call saying that I needed to come home while I was working in the warehouse," said Master Sgt. Vangie Miller, an assistant resiliency instructor on Joint base Langley-Eustis Va. "I just had a gut feeling all the way home, I knew something was wrong with one of my children but I didn't know which one. No one knew the root cause back then."

On that grievous day, she lost her daughter to the unpredictable and terrifying incident of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"I blamed myself [and] my husband. I found a lot of guilt of being a mom at work," Miller explains. "Not being there to have my eyes on them at all times."

Sergeant Miller's daughter was survived by her twin. For that reason, Miller says to this day she has triggers that bring her back to that fateful time.

"When people see my three boys they ask 'have you ever thought about having a girl?'" Miller describes it as "still fresh, like taking a band aid off of a wound."

According to Miller, the support of her mother and the outreach from the community helped pull her out of the dark and reclusive state.

While Miller was focused on healing, she recalled a story her mother told her when she was 16, a story nearly identical to her own. Miller said this is when she had an epiphany.

"I prayed and went to sleep and woke up with a clear head," said Miller. "I was able to start over, turn myself around and think differently. I then realized people help each other without even knowing it."

Miller found meaning amidst her past strife and turmoil, when one year ago she came across a resiliency course and realized her goal of wanting to help people would soon come to fruition.

Miller said she uses the people around her to get through, but resiliency is a two-way street.

"You have to be able to fix yourself before trying to use those [resiliency] tools on other individuals," Miller said. "Helping someone else might even help you."

Identifying a person's cultural background, upbringing, verbal and nonverbal cues can help to peel back their layers. It can be helpful to be attentive and show empathy to get others through difficult moments.

"We are going to save each other in this uniform and we are going to save each other out of this uniform," said Miller. "If we allow other people to open up, [we'll see] everybody has a calling...has a purpose."

Not everything Miller has learned in regards to resilience is from bad experiences. She stresses that success can be a great learning tool as well.

"I discovered a whole new world that has allowed me to heal and use those tools for others," Miller said. "When you start speaking on it and see how certain things help other individuals, it doesn't make that band aid so bad."

Miller says she feels that when something happens, it is for a reason. She believes that reaching out to others is important in the healing process.

"You can have bad things happen to you, but it is how you bounce back," Miller said. "Keep an open mind, communicate with others and stay positive."

Miller shares her experiences through resiliency seminars with Airmen who are not only there voluntarily, but join in on discussions involving their personal stories and how to they may have overcome their own obstacles.

"This is who I am, what I've been through. This is how I'm healing by accepting what happened and [the fact] is that my story can help someone else, because it is helping me today."

For more information on individual resilience skills training, contact your installation's community support coordinator.