It's okay to ask

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Allen Le Vie
  • 50th Operations Group first sergeant

My role as the 50th Operations Group first sergeant allows me the privilege to act as an advisor to six commanders regarding the health, morale and welfare of our Airmen who are charged with delivering global combat effects to defend our nation and its interests.  This month marks my third year as a first sergeant.  During this time, I have served in a logistic readiness squadron, civil engineer squadron, a mission support group and now here in the 50 OG.  Although those varied assignments focused on different operational missions, one thing remains the same: people are people. 

The personal and professional struggles people endure are real and can take a significant toll on individuals and their families.  As a secondary effect, issues in our lives distract us from our primary job and take away from what we are here to do every day.  What keeps me up at night is worrying about people who are seemingly dealing with their struggles alone.  As former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, retired Gen. Mark A. Welsh liked to say, “every Airman has a story.”  As we go through this journey of life together, we can become stronger if we know each other’s stories.

So what is your story?  Who do you trust to share your story with?  A common question often asked of first sergeants is what personnel trends we are observing within our organizations.  I often respond that I continue to witness our Airmen struggling with the random things life throws at them.  Why?  Generally speaking, people do not want to burden others with the problems they are facing. Too often we fool ourselves into believing we can handle all our issues alone.  Or worse, some chose to ignore their problems or distract themselves through unhealthy life choices.  I believe a true warrior is self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  They realize the value of swallowing their pride to ask for help.  They work hard to improve upon their weaknesses, never just ignoring those areas.

Not much good ever comes from ignoring a problem.  Putting off dealing with issues in our lives, or experiences in our past, keeps us from reaching our true potential.  It also makes us vulnerable when additional problems arise or when life throws us an unexpected curveball.  This is where I stress the importance of having a sound Comprehensive Airman Fitness foundation.  When any of our social, physical, mental or spiritual pillars are deficient, we make ourselves susceptible to life’s pitfalls.  Too often, those dealing with a personal or mental health crisis are unable to see all the help awaiting them if they would just ask.

One of our jobs as wingmen is to recognize when a friend or coworker is in need of help, but we cannot do so if we do not know each other’s stories.  Opening up to those in our lives can make us feel exposed, but from this place of vulnerability we can build an unshakeable level of trust and understand when handled with humility, dignity and respect.  Additionally, sharing your past struggles can prove invaluable in convincing others to conquer their fears and take the crucial first steps towards asking for help.  For those who remain reluctant to ask for help because they fear an illusionary negative stigma or how it may impact their career, I remind you all, the exceeding majority of people who seek help see no negative career consequences.  In my eyes, asking for help is a positive sign of a person’s courage and character.

The number and depth of resources accessible to us as Airmen is vast.  The short list includes:  chaplains, Military and Family Life Counselors, mental health providers, Military OneSource and Family Advocacy counselors.  Let us also not forget about our family, friends, supervisors, first sergeants, chiefs and commanders who you can turn to any time of day.  It is okay to say, “I have a problem. I need help.”  Help is waiting.  

All you need to do is ask.