Cover: Airman and Family Resilience

Airman and Family Resilience

Lessons from the Scientific Literature

Published Sep 29, 2015

by Sarah O. Meadows, Laura L. Miller, Sean Robson


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Research Questions

  1. What is resilience?
  2. How are resilience and Total Force Fitness related?
  3. How can resilience and related constructs (e.g., hardiness, flourishing, and post-traumatic growth) be measured?
  4. What resilience-related data does the Air Force already collect and what gaps should it fill?
  5. How can the Air Force bolster resilience among Airmen, civilian employees, and Air Force families?

This final overarching report in a series documents research and recommendations RAND offered to the Air Force to help strengthen the development of a new office responsible for monitoring and promoting resilience among Air Force Airmen, civilian employees, and Air Force families. Efforts to boost resilience have become an important military response to suicide and other markers of distress and poor health. The report reviews the concepts and measures of resilience, resilience factors, hardiness and flourishing. It describes how resilience and the military's Total Force Fitness concepts are related. The report brings together highlights from the eight companion reports on each Total Force Fitness domain and characterizes types of Air Force data that could be used to track resilience.

Key Findings

Resilience factors are key constructs within Total Force Fitness domains

  • The Department of Defense has defined Total Force Fitness as having eight domains: medical, nutritional, environmental, physical, social, spiritual, behavioral, and psychological. These domains incorporate fitness of the body and of the mind.

Many measures have been developed to assess resilience

  • Measures of resilience, and related constructs such as hardiness, flourishing, and post-traumatic growth, are often derived from self-report survey data; an appendix to this report contains a table of measures that includes a description of and information about the psychometric properties and sources of each measure listed.

Interventions that are personalized or target specific behaviors are often more effective than broad campaigns

  • Other effective interventions focus on creating an environment that offers many fitness opportunities and reduces the temptation to make unhealthy choices.

Existing Air Force data can serve as resilience indicators

  • Behavioral incidents (such as driving under the influence, acts of violence, and accidents) may indicate poor self-regulation, negative emotions, lack of coping strategies, and poor safety culture or climate.
  • Professional assessments of the population include physical fitness tests, medical and dental examinations, mental health evaluations, and workplace safety inspections.
  • Several self-report surveys contain information that provides insights into resilience resources, such as social support and health behaviors, stressors, and coping.
  • Air Force administrative data and incident data can identify potential stressors on the force, such as deployments, geographic relocation, and overseas assignments.


  • The Air Force should promote regular unit physical activity to boost fitness across social, medical, physical, behavioral, and psychological domains.
  • More resources should be committed to Health and Wellness Centers to increase capacity for targeted or individual interventions by subject matter experts. These resources include health coaching, personalized dietary and fitness plans, and health education.
  • The Air Force should continue to leverage Wingman Day to promote healthy habits and environments.
  • A "Programs and Services" tab should be added to the Air Force base website template, to make it easier to locate information that can help Airmen and their families cope with stressors and build up resilience resources.
  • The sharing of resilience-related data should be increased across the Air Staff.
  • Gaps in data collection should be filled, to better target messaging and programs, especially on nutritional habits, physical activity, sleep hygiene, use of personal protective equipment, and the spiritual needs of secular members.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by the Air Force offices of Airman and Family Services (AF/A1S), the Surgeon General (AF/SG), and the Secretary of the Air Force, Force Management and Personnel (SAF/MRM) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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