'The more things change ... '

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kristin McCoy
  • 49th Mission Support Squadron commander
The French have a saying that translates as, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." This seems to be especially true for the Air Force.

Lately, "change" or "transformation" are buzzwords that are showing up everywhere and the entire Air Force is feeling the effects.

On the military side, we have Force Shaping and the PBD 720 manpower cuts, an increase in the number and length of deployments and squadron restructures. We're even changing the style of the uniforms we wear. On the civilian side, we just rolled out the National Security Personnel System, the largest overhaul of the civilian personnel system in decades. Finally, here at Holloman, we're transitioning from the F-117A to the F-22A.

While it may seem as if we've been hit by the "perfect storm" of change, if you take a look at the Air Force's history, change has been a constant.

Every generation of Air Force veterans has gone through its own version of transformation, and many would argue their time in the service was the time that saw the most upheaval. "In my day, we had to deal with (fill in the blank)." Some might talk of the Cold War era and of sitting alerts for a war they prayed they'd never see. Others might talk about the post-Vietnam drawdown and the days of the "hollow force." Still, others may recall the Reagan-era build up or the early '90s when we saw all of our major commands undergo a huge restructure. Those are some of the biggest milestones.

Underlying all of that were other changes, whether it was bringing on new weapon systems, the advent of desktop computers with e-mail and the Internet, or implementing the Air and Space Expeditionary Force deployment concept. Change has been our way of life and without it we'd stagnate. But while we acknowledge change as necessary, we also have to acknowledge the stress that comes with it.

Just as changes run the spectrum from small to large, so do the associated stress levels
and the ways they affect our people. Some folks are excited and energized by change and see it as a challenge to be conquered. At the other end of the scale, you'll find people who have great difficulty moving out of their comfort zone and have real trouble coping. That's where we come in as supervisors, coworkers and Wingmen.

First off as supervisors, we can't always control the timing of the changes or the processes, but we can control the flow of information. One of the biggest causes of stress is the unknown, so share what you know. Don't let your folks' primary source of information be the rumor mill. As a chief, I once worked with used to say, "Information is power; empower your people." Another way to counter stress may be something as small as making sure your folks take a lunch break and get away from the office for a little while.

As a coworker, it could be that you offer someone a sympathetic ear and a chance to vent some frustration.

As a Wingman, you may recognize that someone needs extra help and ensure they get connected with the chain of command or the right agency to get that assistance. We've got to take care of each other. We've also got to take care of ourselves.

No one can be an effective supervisor or Wingman if they're falling apart. You've got to recognize how change and stress affect you personally. Whether it's long hours at work, not enough hours of sleep, or another cup of coffee instead of lunch, we can all be guilty of ignoring the warning signs. You may insist your folks take a break, but when's the last time you took one?

If you had to miss unit physical training, did you try to get in a workout at another time? Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to follow the same advice you give to your people. "But I'm too busy"... no. "But I'm the only one who can"... uh, no. We can make any number of excuses for working ourselves into the ground, but no one is invincible. If you push yourself past the breaking point, your unit's going to have to learn to live without you anyway. That's one change we don't need.

Overall, change is necessary. It's how we get better and move forward. While we may not always like it and can't always control it, we can try to lessen the impact of the stress that comes with it. Stay informed, share your knowledge, watch out for your folks and take care of yourself. We'll get through it a lot easier as a team than we will by ourselves. And who knows, maybe one day you'll find yourself beginning a conversation with, "In my day ..."