173rd FW First in ANG to Join Groundbreaking Health Promotion Study

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The 173rd Fighter Wing is employing a promising approach to help members assess their habits and behaviors and make needed changes. Previous studies have shown that even high achieving Airman can wrestle with problems that they hide from others and are reluctant to seek help for--such as drinking too much, abuse from a partner, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. One way to help is to prevent these problems from developing in the first place. That’s the purpose of NORTH STAR, a program utilized by the active duty Air Force.

Earlier this month, the 173rd FW hosted researcher Dr. Mark Eddy. Over a course of four days, he toured the base and met wing Airmen. “NORTH STAR has been developed by working on active duty Air Force bases around the world over the past two decades,” said Dr. Eddy, who is based in Oregon, and serves as the Director of Community-Based Research with the Family Translational Research Group at New York University.  “The 173rd is the first ANG wing to try NORTH STAR, and our research team is interested in finding ways to make the approach work for your Airmen and the unique conditions they face as ANG members.”

Eddy said he understand that asking Airman to do yet another survey is a big deal.  However, he pointed out this one is different from some other surveys on several levels. The first is the total anonymity of the survey. Respondents to the survey are not asked for their names or other personally identifying information. No one will know who did or did not complete the survey.

Second, the survey will be hosted by the NORTH STAR team, part of the Family Translational Research Group at NYU. Within a few weeks after the survey window closes, the team will provide a summary report of the results—a snapshot of the entire population of the base.

The team will then meet with the local Integrated Delivery of Services (IDS) Committee—people like the Chaplain, Family Services, Director of Psychological Health, and the Equal Opportunity office—and discuss what strengths and struggles occur most at Kingsley Field.  Additionally, they will share information about a wide variety of programs that are available to the members of the base that have been found to build protection against and decrease risk for problems. Following a series of briefings and discussions, the IDS will then work together with command leadership to develop new strategies and approaches to strengthen protection and decrease risk against problems.

“The value of widespread participation in this survey is that by looking at patterns of behaviors within the entire population of men and women on the base,” said Maj. John Cascamo, 173rd FW EO and Integrated Delivery System Chair. “We will be in a better position to be proactive and nip problems in the bud before they get to the point where they are having negative impacts on people’s careers.”

NORTH STAR works to create a climate where people are comfortable talking about issues in a way that works best for them.  Whether that is through an anonymous survey or in person.  It is also about creating a culture where we acknowledge that people struggle and that help in many forms is available, including anonymous means like smartphone apps, websites, and e-books.

Secretive issues are those such as depression, anxiety, alcohol misuse, anger, and legal issues which people are understandably reticent to talk about.

Mariana Peoples, 173rd FW Director of Psychological Heath said, “There is an enormous challenge in the reality that a stigma is associated with mental health help.”

NORTH STAR looks to bypass that by being completely anonymous—no user data is tied to the survey and all the survey information goes directly to New York University. The survey information will help develop a clearer picture of the base population without ever identifying a single individual.

“It’s really hard to ask for help; that’s why people try to keep their problems stuffed inside, keep them a secret, use alcohol, and other escapes to bypass what’s bothering them,” added Peoples.  “Also we’re taught incorrectly to ‘don’t talk, feel, trust or think.’ But the reality is just talking with someone has a very high likelihood of changing perspective. It helps people to understand, to gain insight, knowledge and tools to deal with what life drops on us. Either we deal with our issues or our issues deal with us. We as human beings weren’t made to tackle what life throws at us alone. Together we are stronger, there is always help and the sooner we afford ourselves to it the better.”

~ Story compiled with significant contributions from Maj. John Cascamo, Mariana Peoples DPH, and Dr. Mark Eddy.