Mind, Body, and Soul: Syracuse Air Guard Unit Embraces Holistic Wellness

  • Published
  • By By Maj. Suzanne Jedrosko

The 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse, NY has embraced a novel approach to holistic wellness focused on spiritual, physical, social, mental, and emotional fitness. Utilizing mindfulness and self-care techniques, education, mutual support, empowerment, and building resilience through adversity, the approach aligns with the National Guard’s Holistic Wellness Challenge.

The Challenge is a Chief of the National Guard Bureau initiative to enhance the wellness of National Guard members and their families by promoting healthy behaviors and preventing harm. Each month the National Guard releases information on a different wellness topic to include background information, tips, resources, and talking points.

Although there has historically been a stigma in the military about seeking help for mental health, the 174th Attack Wing has rewritten the narrative on seeking help by reinvigorating the role of the Director of Psychological Health (DPH). The DPH serves as a behavioral health consultant, subject matter expert, and advocate for psychological health for the wing.

“As an Air National Guard DPH, I believe in providing a place to be seen, heard, and understood,” said Marni Millet, Director of Psychological Health at the 174th Attack Wing.

Now, service members are encouraged to get the help they need. At the same time, military supervisors and leaders are emboldened to support the mental health needs of Airmen by providing intentional opportunities for people to speak up and challenges for them to overcome, all while doubling down on the positive reinforcement and support.

Doing so allows the Airmen to build resilience, and the capacity to withstand more, by overcoming adversity. It creates an opportunity cost, enabling Guardsmen to be stronger and more resilient the next time they are challenged.

“Seeking treatment for mental health demonstrates the strength and sound judgment needed to maintain and enhance mission readiness,” said Millet said.

Taking care of people is at the forefront of 174th Attack Wing Commander Col. John O’Connor’s leadership initiative. When Airmen have the resources and support that they need, they are better focused on the mission.

“Anxiety and excitement can feel like the same thing, although the messages are quite different,” said Millet. “I can help people learn about this and reduce anxiety in educational settings.”

Through her DPH role, Millet has begun to offer regular yoga sessions for the base community. According to Millet, yoga provides many benefits for the mind, body, and soul. Yoga resets the nervous system and relieves anxiety, while also helping people be in the present moment. It also builds strength, flexibility, and dexterity. Through the practice of yoga, emotions and thoughts that might otherwise be suppressed show up on the mat, which increases resilience.

The yoga is restorative in nature and focuses on breathwork with some strong planks. It teaches Airmen how to reduce the anxious body.

“In a passive manner, we learn to be a warrior on the mat while sadness comes up, and we stand solid and strong in tree pose, while flexibly swaying our arm branches in the air,” Millet said. “This reminds us to be flexible while grounded and focused while being distracted.”

In addition to a focus on mental health awareness and support, the 174th Attack Wing has also hosted several events and initiatives aimed at improving emotional, social, physical, and spiritual wellness.

Throughout the month of April, numerous events were held at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in observation of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. On April 9th, members of the 174th Attack Wing dressed in teal for Teal Tuesday. Teal is designated as the color to show support for sexual assault survivors. Teal has been worn throughout the month of April to show solidarity and raise awareness for sexual assault prevention since 2001.

On April 24th, wing members dressed in denim to honor International Denim Day, a global day of advocacy in support of survivors of sexual assault.

In addition, on April 22nd, the Syracuse Vet Center presented training on Intimate Partner Violence, empowering commanders and supervisors to better support airmen that could be experiencing those situations.

“Lethality in these situations is high and being informed can decrease the lethality and danger for your airmen and their families,” said Gloriann Wixson, the 174th Attack Wing’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Response Victim Advocate.

In May, the wing held its first-ever Lean In circle. The circles bring women together for peer mentorship, camaraderie, and support. They provide women with the resources they need to navigate bias, grow their leadership skills, and lean into their strengths. Additionally, the Lean In circles assist in building confidence, support, and a network for women across the globe.

On June 4th, Hancock Field Air National Guard Base broke bread by hosting a Clergy Day. This event brought more than 80 local faith leaders together for a mission brief, base tour, and luncheon. The intent of Clergy Day was to show appreciation for, and build relationships with, local faith communities and organizations. With a better understanding of what Guardsmen do and the challenges they face, local clergy leaders are better equipped to support the spiritual wellness of service members.

In August, the 174th Attack Wing, in coordination with Syracuse Hancock International Airport, will hold its third annual Runway 5K. The race, which takes place on an active runway, invites community members and runners from across central New York to run alongside service members from the Syracuse-based Air National Guard unit. This unique 5K allows Airmen to challenge their physical fitness while engaging with the local community.

Members of the 174th Attack Wing practice yoga at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, NY, Jun. 9. The yoga sessions align with the National Guard's Holistic Wellness Challenge. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sergeant Duane Morgan)