Do your best to deal positively with change

Maj. Robert J. Gill
1st Communications Maintenance Squadron

Change – a subject we all love to critique and all hope to reduce in our lives. Change is something we often associate with moments of turmoil, unease and many questions.

To those of us serving in our country’s armed forces, change is commonplace. Some of us have been in long enough to remember standing up ACC and AMC along with the force reshaping efforts of the early 1990s. Many of us also remember the previous uniform change like the new service dress and battle dress uniform name tags. All of us have had experience with other forms of change that happen often within the military – new units standing up, old units standing down, taking on new missions, putting old missions aside, moving a unit to a new location, higher operations tempo, manpower changes, AEF taskings, and just regular moves every few years to new locations.  All of these changes have had their fair share of problems associated with them.  All of these changes have come and gone with the United States Air Force continuing to be the best air force in the world all because of the Airmen within our ranks.

Even though we successfully guided ourselves through those changes, we still experienced a wide spectrum of emotions in dealing with the changes. These emotions included but were not limited to: fear, uncertainty, resentment, mistrust, thoughts of how close we are to retirement and confusion. With that said, here we are again at the beginning of another force reshaping – one of the Air Force’s largest drawdowns in recent times and most likely the only one many of our Airmen will remember. As a consequence, like before, many of those emotions we experienced with previous changes are resurfacing.

Why do we feel these emotions? According to Notre Dame’s Human Resources Office, stress due to change happens for many reasons. These reasons include: habit (we all get comfortable with what we have or do now), uncertainty (will the change be successful?), personal loss (fear of being laid-off or changing jobs), misunderstanding (not having a clear picture of why the change is necessary), lack of trust (is the change for someone else’s benefit?), peer pressure (others aren’t for this change so I shouldn’t be either), too little time to adapt (why am I just now hearing about this?), and short-timers syndrome (how close am I to retirement?).

Furthermore, as change happens we all adjust to it at different speeds while going through similar phases: denial, resistance, consideration and acceptance.  But no matter what phase we are in, there are coping techniques that the experts agree can assist us to make the transition. 

These techniques can be summarized as:
• Challenge your mindset; be prepared for change; avoid unrealistic expectations.
• Admit concerns, but don’t act out of anger.
• Acknowledge the challenges (increased pressures and demands), and look for the positive.
• Ask questions of leadership and listen to explanations.
• Keep working and doing your job the best you can.
• Give new ideas a chance; remain upbeat and positive about the change.
• Take care of yourself mentally and physically; protect leisure time, exercise, enjoy hobbies, don’t ignore family and spiritual time and consider counseling if needed.
• Avoid easy and destructive means of handling stress: alcohol abuse, drugs and over-eating.
• Upgrade knowledge and skills; cross-train if required.
• Rise to the challenge. Fit in, in a positive way.  Don’t sit on the sideline and watch the changes pass you by.

No matter what coping techniques you choose to use, we should all remember to be there for each other and support each other as a team. Our challenge as an Air Force team is to accept the changes, realize their purpose and work together to build a new and better Air Force.