Grateful Warrior

  • Published
  • By Mr. Roger Hall
  • 39th Air Base Wing

This month is an opportunity to have small group discussions about gratitude – gratitude is the foundation of resiliency.  When Airmen can reflect and practice gratitude on a regular basis, they become healthier, they exercise more, they sleep better and they build better relationships.  While on a short tour or deployment, Airmen may have a tendency to focus on the negative (We all are prone to negative biases – it comes from the caveman days).  Helping Airmen focus on what they are grateful for in the present helps individuals’ attitudes, feelings, emotions, etc., spiral up vs. the negative emotions that cause individuals to spiral down.   

Gratitude is a powerful thing; it can transform the hardest of hearts, the direst of circumstances and make a bad day great.  I remember being in a combat support hospital at the height of the war.  The doctors and medical staff were experiencing severe burnout, secondary traumatic stress and provider fatigue.  Doctors and nurses were leaving the service faster than we could recruit.  My staff and I were burning out trying to take care of the hospital staff and patients.  November was fast approaching and the planning of events around Thanksgiving was on top of the list.  Being overseas in a remote area during the holiday season is not always fun.  

In hopes of turning things around for the holiday season, I decided that we would do “40 Days of Gratitude.”  I wrote the operations order, started planning the activities and how we would get each section, and the hospital, to do something every day for 40 days.  We designed posters where staff could write about the things they were grateful for.  We left cards out for people to write a thank you note.  Leadership would send out emails expressing gratitude for the great job that they had noticed that day.  Supervisors were tasked to go into the work areas and look for something good, the Army later would define that as “Hunting for the Good Stuff” in their Master Resiliency Program.  

Soon the staff was leaving sticky notes of gratitude on co-workers’ computer screens. Other sections found different activities to do every day as they hunted for the good stuff.  It became so effective in turning things around that we looked at incorporating gratitude into our patient care.  Mental Health saw an improvement of optimism in their struggling patients.  Our Patients in the wards started needing less pain meds and less attention from the staff.  It was working so well that the most stressed out clinics asked me to come in on a daily basis and do mindful meditation, with an emphasis of gratitude, with their staff.  Prayers with patients turned into songs of gratitude and hope.

The 40 days went by quickly, the holidays seemed a little brighter and hope for a better world was being realized as we continued our mission.  I remember those days fondly as the staff and team came together and bonded, all because of learning how to express gratitude even for the smallest of things.  Gratitude works, I have seen what it does firsthand.  I have seen it turn lives and units around.  It is not always easy expressing gratitude, but as I discovered, it not only gets easier each time you do it, but you find yourself wanting to do it more.