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Bringing mental health to the forefront at the FFIT Facilitated Workshop with Laughlin Air Force Base

Imagine an Air Force base where conversations about mental health, wellness, and resilience are not just accepted but encouraged. This became a reality for Laughlin Air Force Base thanks to a recent workshop spearheaded by Noah “Odie” Demerly, a former DAF DTO Process Automation Lead, and a champion for the Fortify the Force Initiative.

Empowered by his training through the cutting-edge DAF Digital Facilitators Academy, Odie brought together a diverse group – from pilots to engineers, medics to defenders.  Their mission? Not just to talk but to gain the tools they need to create a lasting impact and build a stronger, more resilient Air Force.

But why is this conversation so crucial? Odie dives into his experience and the growing movement for mental health awareness within the Air Force and beyond. Buckle up because this isn’t just about one workshop – it’s about a cultural shift that’s taking flight.

 

WORKSHOP REVELATIONS: GUIDING DIALOGUE ON MENTAL HEALTH AND RESILIENCE

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in the Air Force. 

I started my career in the Air Force as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer. After two and a half years, I retired to focus on my mental health. I spent some time in industry working at GE Aviation, and most recently, I worked as a Civilian at Wright-Patterson AFB, in the F-15 program offices and the Digital Transformation Office. I’m incredibly passionate about aircraft, my family, and my faith.

When and why did you get involved with FFIT? 

I’m personally a mental health survivor and advocate for anything that has to do with mental health, wellness, resilience, and spiritual fitness. For me, mental health is something that is too often stigmatized and downplayed.  Being a survivor of mental health battles has shown me that holistic health is no different from mental or physical health.  If you had kidney disease or a broken leg, you would go to the doctor, right?  It should be no different for mental health.

With my passion for mental health, I wanted to make an impact in the DAF through my day-to-day activities. In 2022, CMSAF Bass emailed the force about FFIT, and I immediately dove into figuring out how to get involved.

What was the impetus for Facilitating the workshop for the Laughlin Air Force Base?

Laughlin Air Force Base contacted FFIT, asking for a workshop centered around building a stronger DAF by promoting holistic wellness and addressing barriers to resilience. We gladly accepted an opportunity to test a workshop framework and provide relevant mental health, wellness, resilience, and spiritual fitness training.

What were some of the key takeaways from the workshop discussions? 

A few common themes emerged during the event’s “Action Plan” portion.

  1. 12+ hour workdays are the #1 contributor to issues and struggles with mental health, wellness, and resilience. However, this is also the toughest challenge to tackle and spans across the entire DAF.
  2. Embedded mental health providers in units will become a necessary priority and commitment.
  3. Events that promote holistic health and are diverse in their range of activities are crucial to maintaining a cohesive unit and can help elevate the health of all airmen.
  4. There is a wide range of beliefs and experiences regarding mental health and resilience. The conversations were real and raw, and it was powerful to come to a shared understanding of how to better support airmen and their families.

DAF DIGITAL FACILITATORS ACADEMY

What made you want to Facilitate the discussion? 

Last year, I had the privilege of participating in the pilot program for the DAF Digital Facilitators Academy. This pioneering program included interactive workshops, practical exercises, and one-on-one coaching designed to equip Airmen and Guardians with critical facilitation skills. I’m so thankful for my “master Jedi” facilitator, Jonah Evans, who led the initial series of classes that helped me grow my confidence and lead better events. Without the crucial exercises and one-on-one coaching, we would have never had the success we did with the Laughlin team.

What were some of the lessons learned from Facilitating such an important event?

As with anything new, there were some pitfalls and “scrapes we had on our knees” with this new workshop. We learned some valuable lessons on using space properly for the most effective exercises. The type of music played before the workshop and during sessions is vital to keeping the energy high and participants engaged. We also learned how to maximize our time by refining some of the lengths of activities and providing read-aheads to get the most out of people’s in-person participation. 

ABOUT THE FORTIFY THE FORCE INITIATIVE TEAM:

Established in 2021, FFIT is an inclusive community of Airmen, Guardians, and families who are passionate about improving mental health and resiliency issues in DAF.

Why do you think this topic has taken so long to be recognized and supported? 

Sometimes, mental health diagnoses are seen as job-ending/affecting illnesses, so service members and civilians are afraid to self-identify for mental health, wellness, or resilience struggles. Thankfully, leadership and initiatives within the DAF and FFIT are trying to change that tide.

What’s next for FFIT?

We’re trying to establish a 501(c)3 for our organization, as well as establish DAF-wide FFIT chapters at bases. We also hope this workshop will take off in its popularity and impact as a valuable resource for Airmen and Guardians.

How can Airmen and Guardians get involved in FFIT?

Go to https://fortifytheforce.org/ to get involved! If you’re interested in possibly joining or starting an FFIT chapter at your base/area, we’d love to hear from you!

To learn more about the DAF Digital Facilitators Academy and find out how you can participate in upcoming events, visit: https://staging.dafdto.com/featured/facilitators-academy/

AWARD RECOGNITION

Recently, Noah Demerly won the Category 3 Civilian of the Quarter award for all of HQ AFMC for his leadership, job performance, significant self-improvement, and base/community involvement. The award was presented to him by Lieutenant General Hurry, deputy commander of AFMC, and highlights Demerly’s commitment to the core values of “integrity first and service before self.

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