Guest speaker addresses caregivers at AFMAO

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Holly Roberts-Davis
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations
The mission of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations is not only a solemn one, but one that requires unceasing attention to detail and professionalism from its members. With a no-fail mission such as this one, resiliency opportunities become crucial in ensuring those who perform at this level can continue to do so without taking a toll on their well-being.

Professor and former Marine, Robert Wicks, who has a doctorate in psychology, visited AFMAO to meet service members and civilians who care for the nation’s fallen and learn about the stressors they may experience during their time working at the mortuary.

“I’ve known Dr. Wicks for more than 20 years and he has impacted my life in so many ways,” said Maj. David Kruse, AFMAO’s senior military chaplain. “He is a man who walks the walk, instead of just talking it.”

Kruse described multiple times in his life when Wicks was able to support not only him, but his family during a difficult time.

“When my brother struggled with post-traumatic stress, my mother wasn’t doing well with it,” said Kruse. “I called [Wicks] up and he talked to her about it – helped her understand what my brother was going through.”

Kruse said those times Wicks offered support wasn’t the only reason he asked him to speak at AFMAO. Kruse said he had hosted Wicks at previous assignments and found he was relatable because of his military experience and how “he can speak to a diverse audience and make a positive difference in their lives.”

“Because we have used his books in our resiliency classes people are familiar with him, they know him as an author,” said Kruse. “Right away he made people believe in what he’s saying because he understands our mission and the work we do.”

After an orientation of the facility, Wicks provided a resiliency seminar called “Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World. The seminar focused on self-care and was open to a small group of base personnel whose daily duties require the care of others. Additionally, Wicks offered a separate seminar to permanent-party civilian and military members assigned to the mortuary.

“One of the greatest and most important gifts we can give someone is a sense of our own inner peace,” said Wicks during the discussion at AFMAO. “But you can’t give what you don’t have.”

“It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves,” added Wicks. “If you don’t lean back and take a look at your own stress and handle it, you’ll go down the tubes.”

Wicks is known for his knowledge in secondary stress related to caring for others. He has delivered presentations on self-care at what was formerly Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the then National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he spoke with health care professionals responsible for treating service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple amputations and severe head injuries.

“Having a healthy perspective is essential,” Wicks told the AFMAO members. “When you go through a traumatic time, you will deepen in ways that you wouldn’t have if that trauma didn’t occur. If you sit in recognition of the honor of what you do, you will be different.”

The message was a reminder to the team to ensure they are taking care of themselves.

“Our whole team here is caregivers,” said Kruse. “How do we constantly give without knowing how to care for ourselves? We had to do something for them.”