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Before it’s too late: How Airmen can recognize mental health concerns

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 944th Fighter Wing Department of Psychological Health is piloting a training program for Air Force Reserve Command focused on educating frontline supervisors to better recognize and understand mental health and potential warning signs of distress.

The new training, introduced for the first time during the wing’s September 2020 Unit Training Assembly, was held virtually and in-person at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

Dr. Julie Reese, 944th FW DPH director, is the brains behind this new training, which was first conceptualized and introduced to AFRC in November 2019.

“There has been a long-standing stigma with service members dealing with mental health,” said Reese. “My goal with this training is for the members to walk away knowing what mental health looks like and having the confidence to address it.”

Reese, a native of Maine, has been working in the mental health field for more than 20 years and has been in her current position for the past 5 years.

“I was raised in the military and it has always been a big part of my family,” said Reese. “It’s an honor to be able to give back to a community that has given so much to me.”

The necessity of this training was discussed with Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC commander, and Col. James Greenwald, 944th FW commander, and has been approved as a mandatory training for all noncommissioned officer ranks within the 944th FW.

“The support behind justifying and prioritizing this training has really helped make this happen,” said Reese. “We only have access to most of these reserve members 24 days a year, so it can be hard to fit in.”

About 70 Airman from the 944th FW attended the first in-person session at the Luke Air Force Base theatre and many walked away with better awareness and tools to address mental health concerns.

“This training was something I didn’t have familiarity with in regard to being proactive with mental health,” said Staff Sgt. Emmanuel Pate, a sheet metal mechanic with the 944th Maintenance Squadron. “This gives me more confidence with being able to recognize a potential problem and help before it may be too late.”

Reese said that recognition is one of the most important parts of the training, because the signs of mental health issues can often be happening right in front of us. She added that the 944th DPH has about 25-30 visitors a month, which is one the most across AFRC.

“There has definitely been an increase during COVID [Coronavirus Disease] due to more isolation and stress at home,” said Reese. “The most important thing we can do to assist is to just be present and visible for fellow Airman and those around us.”

Pate, a Phoenix native, said his team size is about 40-50 people and in the 5 years he’s been in the Air Force Reserve he hasn’t received training like this.

“I really felt more purpose and practical application behind this presentation,” he said.