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Rafting for resilience

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Airmen from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, listen to a safety brief before whitewater rafting June 8, 2018, in Cañon City, Colorado. The chaplain-sponsored rafting excursion allowed Airmen the opportunity to use their resiliency skills to face everyday challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney)

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Danny Pallacier, 21st Space Wing religious affairs specialist, listens to a safety brief before whitewater rafting June 8, 2018, in Cañon City, Colorado. The rafting excursion was part of a chaplain-sponsored resilience trip, where participants were encouraged to use their resiliency skills to get through the class-4 rapids. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney)

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Airmen from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, raft down the Arkansas River during a whitewater rafting trip June 8, 2018, in Cañon City, Colorado. During the rafting trip, seven Airmen put their resiliency skills to the test when they faced class-4 rapids. (Courtesy Photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The sun clings to your skin as you tread along the sandy banks of the Arkansas River. With each step you take, nerves and adrenaline race through your body.

Ahead of you awaits your next challenge.

Helmet: check.

Life jacket: check.

You trudge through the shallow water as you step into your raft. The 60-degree water is a refreshing contrast to the 90-degree air.
With an abrupt push from the shore, your blue and yellow raft disembarks toward class-4 rapids.

You’re nervous, but you’re excited.

This is your first time whitewater rafting. Surrounded by people you barely know, you wonder ‘how am I going to handle this?’

Seven Peterson Air Force Base Airmen were presented with this exact situation when they went on a chaplain-sponsored whitewater rafting resilience trip.

“Our goal was to take these Airmen and provide them a little bit of resilience training from the Master Resiliency Trainer and focus on teamwork,” said Capt. Joshua Flynn, 21st Space Wing chaplain. “Whitewater rafting requires the whole team to be on board and that intertwines with life. You’ll go through some rough times and you have to lean on other people. You’re going to hit some tough spots and it can be fearful, but that’s how life is sometimes.”

Tech. Sgt. Sarah McGowan, Equal Opportunity Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge and MRT agreed.

“Life is like a river,” said McGowan. “It’s going to keep taking you along and there are going to be bumps to get through along the way. You need a strong support system, such as the other members in the raft, to work together and get through the rapids of life.”

As the Airmen rushed toward the rapids they were encouraged to paddle together, ultimately achieving their common goal: get past the rapids without flipping their raft.

“You also need to do some purposeful planning ahead of time to be ready for the challenges you may face and avoid panic such as falling out of a raft,” said McGowan. “One of our river guides said it best when he explained how he was certifying a new instructor during the trip, and he wouldn’t fail the test if the raft flipped over, but what mattered was how he handled the situation and getting us back upright.”

The day concluded with a lunch and group discussion which included capitalizing on strengths and the importance of resilience in everyday life.

“Later on in life if they’re going through something they might be able to look back on this experience and use some of the skills they learned today– whether that’s teamwork or just recognizing that they have a group of people to lean on and that can help them get through it,” said Flynn.

McGowan said one of the most important lessons the team learned was the importance of synchronization and flexibility within their roles in the raft.

“We had to communicate effectively and be aware to make sure we were all on the same page, and be aware of what was going on around us,” said McGowan. “We also had to fulfill different team roles, which can be compared to our experience as a military member in leadership and followership positions.”

Flynn said he hopes hands-on experiences can help Airmen capitalize on their newfound resiliency skills.

“Some people are better off being put in front of a PowerPoint presentation with outlined objectives,” said Flynn. “Others need a hands-on experience for the skills to stick more. To actually have to put those skills to the test might actually make them stick more.”

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