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Build Resilience, find your “Happy Place”

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Patricia Kawa’a
  • 349th Medical Group

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — As I work through my daily grind, I find myself looking toward my approaching retirement and I think about what is next. Suddenly, I am back in high school reliving one of my happiest memories, doing what I loved, hiking through Desolation Wilderness, California.

We started in the South Rim and ended at the north.  My track coach led our expeditions every summer.  There was a group of students from local high schools that would get together and plan how we would make it through the valley within the time constraints, which trails we would follow, what food items were required and any additional equipment to pack. All of these supplies then had to be distributed equally among all the students to pack in.

On one of my first trips, I was reading the Tolkien novel “the Hobbit” every night as we made camp and the story came alive. Green valleys filled with skunk cabbage, the way the sunset reflected on the mountain peaks, hiking over a ridge to discover a hidden lake; those were wondrous days.

The second year we made this journey, there was an unexpected blizzard that fell upon us.  A few days into the trip, we awoke to freezing temperatures and our tents covered with snow almost resting on our faces. Our leader was running through the camp waking everyone to ensure we started hiking out immediately. The trails were covered in snow so we had to hike out by compass. We all made it out safe, although there were a few minor frostbite injuries. These trips were always my happy place as a kid.

Taking on the challenges of the wilderness and the unexpected helped me to face obstacles in life head on.  It helped to build my resilience.  I learned that although those trips tested our endurance, teamwork, survival skills and ability to adapt quickly, it most importantly built comradery with in group of people from diverse backgrounds.  We counted on each other and learned to trust each other.

I interact with Airmen daily and I recognize their lives may not be a trek through the wilderness but they too are facing obstacles in the workplace that help increase their resiliency. Whether they are putting up tents and donning chemical gear or deploying to areas in harm’s way, those experiences change them and help them grow. They become trusted teammates with no regard to race, gender or sexual orientation.  I enjoy watching Airmen finding joy and pride in their work.

Despite being happy and loving their work, Airmen also need to find a “happy place” outside of the work environment.  We sometimes can get caught up in the job and forget we can find that same joy and comradery in our off duty time. Outdoor Rec offers many activities to participate in with friends or on their own. The fact that we are pretty centrally located in California allows Airmen to experience the natural wonders of the bay area or enjoy the beauty of Northern California.  

Through the years, I have always gravitated to activities involved with nature and protection of the environment. When people look to retirement, they say that is the time to focus on yourself and find what you enjoy.  As I look back over the last 26 years, I realize I have sometimes forgotten to take the time to focus on what I love to do outside of the confines of the Air Force.

I have a sign hanging in my office of a joyful Snoopy from the comic strip, “Peanuts,” dancing with abandon, that says, “Welcome to my happy place”.  I love my job in the Air Force. I have seen many wonderful places, accomplished most of the things I wanted to and made great relationships. As I prepare to make this last step in my career and return home to my family as a retiree, I will need to once again find my “Happy Place.”