The Air Force is growing increasingly worried about the pace of deployments and how it’s straining airmen and their families.
In 2018, the Air Force will make more progress standing up a new mental health and resiliency program called Task Force True North.
In an August interview, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said that the Air Force had already put program managers for Task Force True North in place at four test sites: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Beale Air Force Base in California, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
And by spring, each base is expected to have a team of 16 licensed clinical social workers and four mental health providers embedded with units there and interacting with airmen every day.
After another year or 18 months, the Air Force will review the program and, if it’s working, possibly expand it.
By embedding these mental health providers directly with airmen, Wright hopes to normalize the process of seeking help for mental health issues. And Air Force leaders need to make sure they don’t perpetuate any stigma for seeking help, even subconsciously.
Wright said that deployment tempos could be putting pressure on crucial airmen and prompt them to leave, further increasing the pressure on those who remain and worsening the situation. The problem is especially worrisome given the suicide problem in the Air Force and other military branches.
“We can’t really have a true impact on the dwell-to-deploy ratio unless [we] maintain trained and experienced individuals in those career fields,” Wright said. “If we keep them at a one-to-one ration — six months [deployed], six months home — that starts to wear on them personally, mentally, [and] it starts to wear on their families.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.