Career A-10 pilot gives tips on combating deployment stress

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  • By Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams

Lt. Col. Todd Riddle, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with more than 21 years of military service and five combat tours, is no stranger to deployment and the stress it brings. He broke away from his position as a Secretary of Defense executive fellow with Qualcomm Technologies in San Diego to help prepare fellow Airmen and their loved ones on the challenges deployment can bring.

Riddle educated pre- and post-deployers and their loved ones on the topic Jan. 25 at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event Jan. 25 in Orange County, California. The former squadron commander led several breakout sessions and served as keynote speaker for Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of reservists and those closest to them by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

“Each deployment is unique and takes on its own characteristics,” Riddle said.

He explained how stress affects well-being and gave strategies and techniques to address it. He defined it as the response we have when life challenges seem greater than our ability to handle. Deployment, whether an Airman’s first time or not, is often one of those times, he said.

Over the years, he has deployed leaving behind young children to teenagers, but every trip brought on different stressors, he said.

Family was a common concern among the attendees. Participants mentioned having deployed before being married or becoming a parent, but now are being faced with leaving their spouses and children behind for several months. First-time deployers mentioned having similar feelings.

“I’m worried because my kids are never without me,” said a pre-deployer preparing for her first overseas tour this summer.

If stress isn’t handled, it may lead to feelings of burnout or more severe consequences, said Riddle, who provided the men and women tools to handle stress as it comes. He suggested keeping a log of stressful thoughts to help one stay aware of feelings before they become too overwhelming.

Staff Sgt. Brandi Harris, an air transportation specialist at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, said she found the information motivating, helpful and informative.

“It connected the dots to behavior,” she said. “It taught me how to catch what we’re feeling as it comes.”

Once stress is recognized, Riddle said, the next step is to address it. The information he shared gave the audience a variety of techniques to combat stress because everybody responds to stress differently.

“Something that may not be stressful to you could terrify someone else,” he said. “Our stress management depends a great deal on our personality.”

Riddle provided Airmen a variety of techniques to help relieve the pressure. He gave attendees a list of stress-busting strategies including limiting worry to a specific time of day, breathing strategies and keeping journals.

“Journaling can bring coherence to what seems messy,” he said.

A few deployers participating in Yellow Ribbon agreed that this technique had been helpful in the past and others said it would likely help them as well.

Yellow Ribbon began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains more than 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and other topics.