CAF: What is it and how does it apply to me? Part 1

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- "Comprehensive Airman Fitness reflects our commitment to developing a holistic approach to caring for our people that equips, enables and empowers everyone to grow more physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually fit. It's not another program, but rather, a means to enhance mission effectiveness by intentionally investing in one another."

-- Gen Raymond E. Johns, Jr., Air Mobility Command commander

As a new staff psychologist at Little Rock Air Force Base, I was curious about this initiative: Comprehensive Airman Fitness. I arrived on station in September 2010 and one month later this program was rolled out. Being the new kid on the block, I was assigned the task of chairing the "Mental Pillar" of the CAF. "What is this CAF thing?" I asked myself. "How do I wrap my brain around this and make it mean something?" I was skeptical... another Air Force program we have to implement? More meetings? Over the course of the next year, CAF has taken shape and evolved at Little Rock. I'm hoping to help you better understand what this program, Comprehensive Airman Fitness, is and how it is impacting our community.

According to AMC, Comprehensive Airman Fitness is "a philosophy and approach to taking care of people, not a program. It establishes a framework to increase individual and organizational resilience." The goals of CAF are to create and strengthen a community of fit and resilient Airmen, civilians, and families by enhancing their overall well-being. CAF's approach to accomplishing these goals is to focus on four core areas of a person's life: their mental well-being, their social life and activities, their physical health, and their spirituality. CAF uses a pictorial representation of this approach to explain how this works and refers to these areas of a person's life as the "pillars." These pillars are denoted as the Mental, Social, Physical, and Spiritual, and they are supported by a foundation of leadership, including the representatives of agencies on base that provide services to contribute to the health of these pillars within each member of the community. These agencies, events, and activities collaborate to provide services to support a sense of well-being, life balance, and resilience to the military members, their families, civilians who work here, and to the community in general. Additionally, as a way of enhancing a sense of belonging to this community, five specific behaviors have been identified as essential to developing a healthy sense of self and an ability to effectively interact with others. They are actions we can all take to improve our community, and they are: Caring, Committing, Connecting, Communicating, and Celebrating. These behaviors are the focus of the CAF philosophy and serve as the thread running throughout the fabric of our community.

So what are these pillars and what do they mean? I asked myself that question too. As explained by AMC, each pillar represents an important area of a person's life and certain agencies, programs, and services are provided to enhance or improve that targeted area. For example, the Mental pillar's goal is to help members of this community to approach life's challenges in a positive way by demonstrating self-control, stamina, and good character with choices and actions, as well as to encourage people to seek help and offer help. Programs such as the "Building Healthy Relationships Seminar" at the First Term Airmans Center or the Frontline Supervisors Training Course help Airmen to learn ways to manage stress; both their own and recognizing distress in other Airmen. Outreach education on topics, such as suicide prevention, that is provided by the Mental Health Clinic to the Key Spouses and other groups on base are another example of how prevention efforts are targeted toward the Mental pillar's goals. I could go on and on since this is my area of expertise, but there are other pillars!

The Social pillar's focus is on developing and maintaining trusting, valued friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication, including the exchange of ideas, views, and experiences. Events such as the Welcome Home Warriors, "Healthy Dorms" events (including organized outdoor activities, video game tournaments, etc.), and all the festivals are examples of how Little Rock strives to embody the spirit of the Social pillar.

Next, performing and excelling in physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, flexibility, and body composition derived through exercise, nutrition, and training is the focus of the Physical pillar. I think this one is the easiest to spot when you take a look at base activities! We have a fantastic Health and Wellness Center that provides certified staff to support Airmen and their families in attaining their fitness goals, putting on Fun Runs and Sports Days, leading Vital 90 and other programs to help with passing the PT tests, and teaching classes on everything from yoga to tobacco cessation. The base also has a medical clinic staffed with qualified and caring physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and physical therapists.

Finally, the goal of the Spiritual pillar is to strengthen a set of beliefs, principles, or values that sustain a person beyond familial, institutional, and societal sources of strength. Spiritual does not necessarily have to mean "religion." Some people get their strength from religion but others do not. However, we all need a sense of hope, purpose, and meaning, and enhancing this is the focus of the Spiritual pillar. Activities such as Marriage Enrichment counseling offered through the chapel or their other spiritual retreat programs are just a few of the ways in which the base targets supporting this pillar. There are also couples' workshops, such as the "Strong Bonds" program, offered through the Mental Health clinic or individual counseling for couples and families through the Family Advocacy Program. By providing a safe and fun environment for dorm residents, the Crossroads Café is yet another example of how Little Rock strives to enhance and support the Spiritual pillar. I have really only touched on just a few of the services provided by various agencies across the base. There are many more services, programs, activities, and events that are provided to help support our community, and collaboration between individuals, agencies, and service providers occurs on a regular basis to provide a comprehensive approach to "total force fitness."

In addition to the pillars, the Comprehensive Airman Fitness approach is tied together by the actions or behaviors we can all do to carry out this philosophy. Action words are used to promote a healthy sense of self and to enhance relationship with others. Caring: refers to caring for ourselves as well as those around us by exhibiting integrity, empathy, and respect in what we choose to do and say. Committing: making a commitment to help others become their best so that lasting bonds are formed and we are seen as individuals who appreciate another's point of view. Connecting: is an intentional effort to develop the skills to effectively reach out to others in ways that add value to both their lives as well as our own. Communicating: in a positive and proactive way in order to increase the chances of effectively connecting with those around us. Celebrating: success through recognition and praise to those who achieve superior performance; just as they are committed to sharing constructive feedback following failure.

Editor's note: This article will be continued in next week's issue of the Combat Airlifter. The Comprehensive Airman Fitness concept will be looked at through the lens of how it applies to each of us as members of this community through a firsthand account of one individual's journey to regain his mental, social, physical, and spiritual fitness.