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Airman’s Edge: Peer-to-peer mentorship program helps Whiteman AFB Airmen with mental resiliency

Dr. Justin Baker, Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health assistant professor of research, trains Airmen at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. The Airman’s Edge program allows for a peer-to-peer mentorship in suicide prevention efforts and aims to strengthen social connectedness and unit cohesion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

Dr. Justin Baker, Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health assistant professor of research, trains Airmen at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. The Airman’s Edge program allows for a peer-to-peer mentorship in suicide prevention efforts and aims to strengthen social connectedness and unit cohesion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

Tina Shelnut, Ohio State University Airman’s Edge research associate, AnnaBelle Bryan, Ohio State University director and clinical research manager, and Dr. Justin Baker, Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health assistant professor of research, stand for photo at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. Airman’s Edge helps Airmen by teaching several emotion regulation and cognitive flexibility skills including relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and sleep behaviors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

Tina Shelnut, Ohio State University Airman’s Edge research associate, AnnaBelle Bryan, Ohio State University director and clinical research manager, and Dr. Justin Baker, Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health assistant professor of research, stand for photo at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. Airman’s Edge helps Airmen by teaching several emotion regulation and cognitive flexibility skills including relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and sleep behaviors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Tharp, 509th Maintenance Squadron propulsion noncommissioned officer in charge, talks about her experience in the Airman’s Edge program at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. Airman’s Edge is a peer-to-peer mentoring program that is facilitated by Airman for Airman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Tharp, 509th Maintenance Squadron propulsion noncommissioned officer in charge, talks about her experience in the Airman’s Edge program at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 16, 2020. Airman’s Edge is a peer-to-peer mentoring program that is facilitated by Airman for Airman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Fonzo, 509th Maintenance Squadron low observable aircraft structural maintenance section chief, gives a briefing on fatigue countermeasures during a commander’s call at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 15, 2020. Airman’s Edge focuses on topics such as improving sleep, building purpose and meaning within the workplace, perspective taking, safe firearm storage, and building unit cohesion to improve the moral and welfare of the whole squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Fonzo, 509th Maintenance Squadron low observable aircraft structural maintenance section chief, gives a briefing on fatigue countermeasures during a commander’s call at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 15, 2020. Airman’s Edge focuses on topics such as improving sleep, building purpose and meaning within the workplace, perspective taking, safe firearm storage, and building unit cohesion to improve the moral and welfare of the whole squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

 

The Department of Defense selected Whiteman Air Force Base to be the first base to participate in testing Airman’s Edge, the proposed Air Force-wide version of Defender’s Edge.

 

Where Defender’s Edge is a mentoring program developed for Security Forces Airmen to help prevent operational stress injuries, Airman’s Edge is a study to prove the program can be successful beyond security forces.

 

“If Airman’s Edge is successful in its suicide prevention efforts at Whiteman, there remains the possibility that the program could be rolled out at other military installations,” said Dr. Justin Baker, the Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health assistant professor of research.

 

Airman’s Edge is a peer-to-peer mentoring program facilitated by Airmen, for Airmen. Peer mentors are nominated by their fellow Airmen as well as by their command leadership. 

 

 “We want to identify the individuals that people already naturally turn to for advice and mentorship,” said Baker. “We want to provide these individuals with specific skills and tools to better equip them for what they are already doing.”

 

Airmen chosen to become mentors go through three days of training, learning peer-to-peer mentoring, crisis response planning and how to train their squadrons. 

 

“In the training, I learned different ways to ask people the hard questions, as well as plans and tips that can help them get back on the right path mentally,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Tharp, 509th Maintenance Squadron propulsion noncommissioned officer in charge. “I love being a mentor because I feel like I am making a difference in the culture and mindset of my squadron, just in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ sort of way.”

 

According to Tharp, she regularly briefs her squadron on things that can make their lives better such as sleep patterns, caffeine use and gun safety. 

 

“The main purpose of Airman’s Edge is to reduce suicides in the military,” said Tharp. “We can do this by integrating peer counselors into the squadrons and teaching people how to better deal with rough times. The benefits of this are a healthy, resilient, and supportive squadron. I think it is working, even at this early stage, because my Airmen tell me how they have changed their lifestyles based on what they learned in our briefings and talks.”

 

With the mentors briefing their fellow Airmen and being there as a peer, Airman’s Edge provides another avenue for Airmen who may believe their problem is not enough to go to mental health.

 

“Peer-to-peer mentoring gives Airmen an equal to go to,” said Tharp. “Going to the Chaplain or mental health can be scarier and less comfortable than talking to a fellow Airman who is also going through the same thing. I think this will help people talk more and get their problems sorted out before it becomes too overwhelming.”
 

Airman’s Edge focuses on topics such as improving sleep, building purpose and meaning within the workplace, perspective taking, safe firearm storage, and building unit cohesion to improve the moral and welfare of the whole squadron.

 

“The goal of Airman’s Edge is to bring the intervention to the workplace where service members are at,” said Baker. “If we can affect the social context of the workplace, build in resiliency and improve the overall mental health of the workforce, we can hopefully reduce suicide rates.”  

 

If you or someone you know would like to be nominated as a mentor, please speak with your leadership or complete the next Reality Check survey.