JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
First thing on a Thursday morning, I learned I was going to be writing a story about a Task Force True North activity the following day — whitewater rafting and glacier hiking. Yes, please!
Being brand-new to the Air Force, Public Affairs and Joint Base-Elmendorf-Richardson, this was the first time I had heard of Task Force True North, so I looked it up online. It’s an initiative started in July 2018 to address Comprehensive Airman Fitness and decrease negative outcomes like sexual assault, suicide, domestic and workplace violence.
I thought, ok, I can see how whitewater rafting and a glacier hike can improve a person’s well-being, bringing them out into the mountains and away from the office on a duty day.
Although I’ve always been interested in whitewater rafting, I had never gone because of cost, time and no one to go with. This trip was free, during the duty day, and organized — so I was apprehensive, but excited.
Along with members from the 673d Civil Engineer Group, I climbed into a van driven by US Air Force Capt. David S. Keel, a chaplain assigned to the 673d CEG. In April 2018, Keel was appointed to TFTN at JBER as part of the religious support team. He said Task Force True North did a similar whitewater rafting trip last year, and an ATV trip earlier this summer. The trips encourage Airmen to get out of the dorms, meet others with similar interests, and try something new.
When we arrived at the destination, people were a little quiet, maybe shy. There were a few people paired off with someone they already knew and perhaps planned on doing this trip with. When we started rafting, things changed.
“Forward paddle!” our guide yelled. My oar stroked air as the bow of the raft pointed up to the sky, then pitched down toward a wall of gray water that broke over the front half of the raft and engulfed the two of us sitting in the front. “Whoo!” I heard my raftmates around me bellow as icy water streamed down our faces. We laughed hysterically as we spit out grit from having our mouths open when we hit the wave. Then we hit another wave. “Backward paddle!” Then another wave.
Between bouts of rapids, we high-fived overhead with the oars and cheered as one cohesive group. I could hear people on the other rafts laughing and hollering as loud as my rafting team. I think it’s safe to assume they were having as much fun as we were.
During lunch and the glacier hike, people were much more talkative than when we first arrived. The enthusiasm of working together as a team to break through the whitewater rapids had broken the ice. For most of us, that was the first time we had gone whitewater rafting, but I heard several say they want to do it again. Task Force True North objective achieved.
Before the glacier hike, Master Sgt. Michael Chin, superintendent of Religious Affairs for the 673d CEG, and Keel led a discussion on resiliency and the TFTN mission. They talked about how going on adventures with others who have similar interests increases our well-being and resiliency. They addressed the importance of taking care of ourselves and our fellow Airmen which maintains mission readiness.
Task Force True North embeds a religious support team, including Chin and Keel, and mental health counselors in groups to decentralize resources available to Airmen. Bringing these resources closer to Airmen encourages them to engage and aims to reduce negative outcomes. According to the Air Force’s Office of Resilience, early results have encouraged senior leaders to expand the effort beginning in 2021.
I am glad I had an opportunity to experience the camaraderie, team building and adventure this initiative has made available at JBER. I encourage anyone interested to check it out.
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