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Of Dukes, Dodges and Resiliency

To strengthen force resilience, Air Force civilians and family members, AMC launched Comprehensive Airman Fitness July 1 as a new approach to taking care of oneself and others.

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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Sometimes I feel like a character from the 80's TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard." A devilishly-handsome, Dodge-driving victim of circumstance and bad luck who, through no fault of my own, keeps getting thrown into unbelievable predicaments where there seems to be no escape.

The Boss Hoggs, Roscoes and random evil-doing strangers always seem to get the upper hand, stealing my shiny orange Charger, threatening the deed to my farm or kidnapping my cousin who wears impossibly short, namesake shorts. Whatever shall I do?

Where can I turn when all the Cousin Lukes, "Crazy" Cooter Davenports and random good guys are either locked up in Hazzard Jail, tied up in an abandoned mill or out hitting the NASCAR circuit?

As any Dukes fan knows, you can always count on good 'ole Uncle Jesse, the older, wiser role model every young boy looks up to. He will always be there to offer advice and loan you a beat-up pickup truck when you're broke as a joke and the General is in the impound lot. There should be someone like Uncle Jesse in everyone's life.

I am not a Duke boy, nor do I have an awesome 1969 Dodge Charger, but I was lucky enough to have two Uncle Jesse-types to look up to while growing up. Men of character who righted wrongs and taught me to overcome adversity. Men who, on occasion, wore bib overalls and drove tractors.

My father and my Uncle Shaun have been positive influences in my life as long as I can remember. They both taught me important lessons every boy needs to learn in his conquest to become a man.

For example, I hated playing tee ball as a lad, but my father wouldn't let me quit in the middle of the season. I made a commitment to the other players to be part of the team, and though I hated it at the time, instances like these instilled many positive character traits in me.

Uncle Shaun taught me to value of a hard day's work, to take pride in what I do, and how to prioritize work and play. After hours of my cousins and me slaving away with lawn mowers, trimmers, shovels and rakes, he'd fire up his old Honda motorcycle and let us ride it around the farm until we ran it out of gas. In our minds, the blisters on our hands were totally worth it.

"You can come ride the Honda," he'd say, "but first, we must work like dogs."

These men taught me what it was to be a strong individual and gave me a strong foundation upon which I could build my own manhood. They also taught me that although I should be my own man and live my own life, I was never alone when times got tough.

They watched me make my mistakes, helped me learn my lessons and offered direction when I thought there was no hope. They were the Uncle Jesses who knew the perfect trick to get out of a jam. They gave me hope when I wanted to give up and turn myself in to the Roscoes of life who were out to "cuff and stuff" me.

As Airmen, we all need this same sort of go-to person from time to time in our careers. From our first moments in service, enlisted men and women have learned to trust our leaders. Our military training instructors were often harsh in their rebukes, but we learned to emulate them as they represented the Air Force core values and ingrained those critical values in us.

Along the way, many of us have come across leaders who have disappointed us with their lack of caring, lack of professionalism, or lack of ability to inspire. There are few things more detrimental to an Airman's resiliency than a failure in leadership.

When an Airman has nowhere to turn when things get tough, when people they already see as poor supervisors, mentors or leaders make their struggle more difficult rather than giving them a hand up, how can we expect them to continue to believe in the core values we all claim to hold dear?

Every Airman, weather fresh out of basic or a Pentagon-level general, needs an Uncle Jesse type from time to time. Every Airman also has the opportunity to be that kind of cornerstone that could be the key to another Airman's success or failure.

Resiliency is the refusal to give up in the face of adversity. The ability to "bounce back" when you get beat up. In light of the Air Force's focus on this important aspect of wellness, I hope we all take the opportunity to help our wingmen when they need a hand up. Looking the other way while a fellow human is suffering conflicts with the Air Force's Core Values. Take the extra initiative. Be available. Be reliable. Be helpful.

Equally, reach out when you don't think you can handle your problems alone. Don't be discouraged if the first person you reach out to isn't the Uncle Jesse-type you thought they were. If there is nobody in your shop you can rely on, there are first sergeants, chaplains, counselors and advocates that you can trust to help you out of whatever situation you may find yourself in.

The staff sergeant stripes I will soon sew on my sleeves will put me in a position to be an Uncle Jesse type. Airmen I supervise will need me to put on the figurative overalls and red cap and be that example of resiliency. Not only their rater, or the one who deals out tasks, but the person they can go to with their problems. Thanks to the family, friends and supervisors who were there for me, I am ready to be there for my friends and neighbors. I'm just not quite ready to be in the market for a rusty old Ford pickup yet.