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173rd Fighter Wing hosts Integrative Therapy training to foster resiliency

Integrated Resoration Therapy

The 173rd Fighter Wing hosted Integrative Therapy instructor, Kelly Birch, for training designed to help Airmen better manage stress inherent to the modern workplace, Sept. 14, 2018. The training falls under the umbrella of Comprehensive Airman Fitness which emphasizes resiliency. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --

The 173rd Fighter Wing hosted an integrative restoration seminar, known as iRest, for its Airmen, Sept. 14, 2018, in an effort to help them as they pursue Comprehensive Airman Fitness—a program fostering mental, physical, social, and spiritual fitness.

Integrative Restoration focuses on resilience, a subject that is a key area of focus for the Air Force and other service branches.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, stressed its importance saying, “If the foundation of readiness is training, then the core of what makes an Airman more lethal is resilience.” He then added, “I used to think [resilience] was the ability to bounce back, but I now see it as the ability to move through the hardships, the pain, the fear and the suffering.”

That focus sees the force trying new and innovative approaches to building resilience, which is why a group of Airmen found themselves lying on mats in a training room, listening to the voice of Kelly Birch, an iRest instructor who is also a licensed therapist.

“It can be helpful to formulate your intention for the day so you know what you are doing and why you are doing it,” she says at one point during an introductory session in which she works to help students develop more awareness of what their body's sensations are telling them.

“You can also, by yourself, practice the body sensing by sweeping your attention through your body from head to toe: head, neck, torso, arms and hands, legs and feet and back to the head,” she intones.

She explains the reason for this approach from a physiological perspective.  “When we are constantly stressed, with no downtime, our cortisol is elevated and the sympathetic nervous system stress responses are chronically activated,” says Birch.

This training uses that focus to regulate those responses. “It carries over in our capacity in daily life to manage our emotions, to notice our thoughts, which ones are helpful and which ones aren’t.”

Birch says the training can help people function in a chaotic environment calmly and rationally, and that practitioners may have less stress and anxiety, sleep disturbances and increased energy levels.

For many Airmen that attended this seminar, this is the first time they have tried the training or what Birch calls a protocol.

“I wanted to try iRest to see what it was truly about,” Senior Airman Melinda Grounds said. “To me it promised a new experience and a new way to navigate and control my own emotions and thoughts ... a purposeful practice to maintain a balanced disposition in my own life.”

Grounds says the skills this training  imparted will serve her in that capacity and that she sees it as a viable approach to managing stress.

“I participated in this at a Yellow Ribbon event after returning from my deployment,” said Staff Sgt. Penny Snoozy, who largely spearheaded the effort to bring Birch and the iRest training to the 173rd Fighter Wing. “I felt that we all have stress in our lives, especially those of us who are in the military, and I wanted to bring this to our Airmen because mental resiliency is important whether we are at home or overseas on deployment.”

This training falls largely outside what many consider typical military training—It’s not push-ups, sit-ups or running—but for those who participated, they see it as mental fitness and a core part of their Comprehensive Airman Fitness.