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Maintaining healthy relationships key to mission success

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Military life presents a wide range of stressors for Airmen and their families. Deployments, increased operations tempo and decreased manning can have negative effects in both the workplace and the home if Airmen do not know where to turn for help.

As part of ongoing efforts to educate Airmen about healthy ways to manage stress, the Air Force introduced 12 monthly stress management initiatives in May. The theme for June is "Healthy Relationships".

The Air Force tries to combat the negative effects of stress at the lowest possible level through several key programs and agencies dedicated to identifying, managing, treating and reducing sources of stress affecting Airmen and their families. These agencies are part of the Integrated Delivery System, a group of cross-functional experts dedicated to the well-being of Airmen and their families.

Vandenberg Airmen and Family Readiness Center
One available resource is the Airmen and Family Readiness Center. The A&FRC offers individual relationship consulting services and other relationship-building classes.

"Airmen have a continuous juggling act trying to meet the requirements of the Air Force mission and the needs of their families," said Linda Crowder, A&FRC community readiness consultant. "Whether it's your co-workers, your neighbors or your nearest and dearest, it's important to look at ways of maintaining your core relationships and working to make them stronger. Every relationship can benefit from a little bit of maintenance."

Some services offered through A&FRC include:

-- Consultants are assigned to deploying squadrons to augment the Global Hearts and family readiness program. The consultants connect with the military families during the pre-deployment phase, sustainment phase of the deployment and preparing for reunions.

-- Marriage enrichment on a one-on-one basis: counseling focuses on relationship dynamics, effective communication, conflict management and stress management.

-- Understanding yourself and others: military couples learn how to understand personality and temperament styles, and ways to work through those differences.

-- Family life information is available at the A&FRC throughout the various discovery sections titled Readiness, Finance, Relocation and Employment. Walk-in hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

-- Heart Link spouse orientation program: an interactive learning experience is geared toward newly married military spouses, but open to all. It informs spouses about the Air Force mission and military programs, services, benefits and entitlements available to them and their family members. Each "graduate" receives an official Air Force spouse coin after the orientation.

"Even Heart Link, although geared toward newly married spouses, benefits the entire family," Ms. Crowder said. "Heart Link gives the spouse the sense that he or she is also part of the mission and an understanding of what is expected of their Air Force member day to day. They are in this together, and when they understand the mission, they can speak the same language."

"The relationship consulting programs offered by the Airmen and Family Readiness Center provide a foundation for communication, particularly in an age when many younger people are more comfortable communicating virtually rather than face-to-face," she said.

Two other programs offer additional support service as partners with the A&FRC.

- Military One Source is dedicated to focusing on couples. One-on-one counseling is free for families coping with the unique challenges as a military family and only requires making a phone call to 1-800-342-9647. Military One Source also has many educational resources that can be accessed at their website, www.militaryonesource.com.

- "Help From Home" is a behavioral health resource for military members and families in the TRICARE West Region. As a TRICARE-eligible beneficiary, a military family can receive free and personalized support and education from an experienced clinical health coach. To learn more, call 1-888-259-9378, or visit the "Healthy Living" section at www.triwest.com.

30th Space Wing Chapel
The chapel also offers services to help military members maintain healthy relationships, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Grubbs, head chaplain with the 30th Space Wing Chapel.

"A healthy relationship is one in which there is individuality," Chaplain Grubbs said. "Individuality allows us to work as a team. A person will lead when they have the right skills and gifts to contribute to the family. Having a healthy relationship is a means for people to maintain a degree of individuality, and the chapel provides paths for them to grow and develop."

"Conflict sometimes comes when we see individuality as bad," he said. "Unhealthy relationships can be detrimental over time. They deteriorate your capacity to live a full and meaningful life.

"If a couple's relationship is struggling or having trouble, we provide confidential individual or couple counseling to help them explore their hopes, personalities, goals and dreams."

With the support of chaplain assistants, chaplains provide counseling for workplace relationships, and marriage and family relationships. With chaplain counseling comes confidentiality. When people come and talk to a chaplain, anything that is shared is completely off the record, and completely protected.

The full spectrum of chaplain aid is more than just counseling.

"We provide families an opportunity to worship, work, pray together, and focus on common goals," Chaplain Grubbs said. "Marriage retreats, workshops and fellowships allow people to focus on what they're not doing well and to come together, enjoy and celebrate what they have already. Relationships take a lot of work and a lot of communication, and we're well trained and more than happy to help with that process. We are always available to families, and we maintain 24/7 availability for emergencies."

Vandenberg Family Advocacy Program
Family advocacy has a variety of formal programs that focus on building and maintaining healthy relationships. The goal of FAP prevention and outreach activities is to support mission readiness by promoting resilience in families and communities.

"Healthy relationships are associated with physical and emotional well-being and life satisfaction in general," said Margarita Olimpio, Family Advocacy Outreach Manager. "We have also come to recognize that healthy relationships promote mission readiness, allowing our Airmen to be at their best in performing the mission."

Some of Family Advocacy's formal programs include:

-- Family Advocacy Strengths-based Therapy: Professional assessment and counseling for couples and families in crisis.

-- Marriage or couples counseling and briefings or workshops as needed.

-- A new parent support program, parenting classes, and stress and anger management.

Family advocacy also offers briefings for couples on maintaining long distance relationships, reconnecting as a couple, love after marriage and more.

"All the programs currently in use have important things in common," Ms. Olimpio said. "They educate couples about relationship fundamentals such as communication, managing stress and resolving conflicts, and also promote better understanding and more positive interactions between partners.

These services are provided under the auspices of prevention and outreach to the Air Force community, she said. They don't require a referral and are not documented in medical records.

"These programs are not offered by family advocacy exclusively, although we do play a vital role in terms of guiding such activities and providing resources and expertise," the outreach manager said. "Our Integrated Delivery System functions at the base level share a common interest in promoting healthy relationships. Very often these agencies collaborate to provide programs to their communities, pooling their resources and skills or providing different opportunities and options in a coordinated manner throughout the year."

Mental health clinic
The Vandenberg Mental Health Clinic, formerly the Life Skills Support Center, is yet another avenue for Airmen seeking ways to strengthen their relationships.

Mental health has clinical social workers and clinical psychologists on staff to provide counseling to Airmen and dual active duty couples, said Capt. Jared Detter, a clinical psychologist with the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Behavioral Health flight.

"It's important that people seek help before things get bad, because any personal or marital problem left long enough will ultimately impact the mission," Captain Detter said.

"In my experience, Airmen are reluctant to seek treatment through mental health because they are worried about the stigma -- that people will think less of them, that there will be adverse career outcomes or that people will be involved in their personal business," he said.

"The truth is, 97 percent of Airmen who seek treatment suffer no adverse career outcomes, and in 90 percent of cases of Airmen who seek treatment, the unit is never notified. Unless a risk to safety or the mission is present, Airmen need to know that privacy is the norm," he said.

Mental health provides clinical counseling for active duty couples who are having significant communication or relational problems, he said. Mental health can provide a safe, neutral environment that is comfortable for both partners to communicate with each other.

"We're all people with everyday problems," Captain Detter said. "The healthy, well-adjusted Airmen try to fix problems before they get worse. Going to see a counselor will not get you in trouble. Not being able to do your job, will. If you seek help, you will be better able to do your job."