Cover: An Evaluation of Task Force True North Initiatives for the Promotion of Resilience and Well-Being Within the Air Force

An Evaluation of Task Force True North Initiatives for the Promotion of Resilience and Well-Being Within the Air Force

Published Oct 15, 2020

by Samantha E. DiNicola, Shirley M. Ross, Brandon Crosby, Rebecca Jensen, Irina A. Chindea, Susan G. Straus


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Research Questions

  1. Based on the perceptions of key stakeholders, which TFTN initiatives appear to have been successful?
  2. Which initiatives could be expanded across the Air Force?
  3. How could such an expansion be best accomplished?

Task Force True North (TFTN) is a collection of five initiatives chartered by the U.S. Air Force to improve resilience and well-being in airmen and their families. These initiatives have been undergoing beta testing at four locations: Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB), Minot AFB, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and Beale AFB. The authors undertook a qualitative analysis of the perceptions of key stakeholders across all TFTN initiatives to identify what is or is not working well with the goal of expanding TFTN to a broader section of the Air Force.

The authors conducted interviews and focus groups with leadership, providers, and airmen during two sets of base visits to each of the four beta test locations. Thematic analysis of the data collected from the base visits allowed the authors to identify key findings related to each of the initiatives and to TFTN as a whole, as well as changes in perceptions in the six months between the first and second set of base visits.

The authors provide background information on TFTN and its initiatives—Welcome Centers, NORTH STAR, Religious Support Teams (RSTs), Embedded Mental Health Teams (EMHTs), and Operational Support Teams (OSTs)—and describe perspectives gathered from the interviews and focus groups. The authors conclude with recommendations designed to help each of the initiatives reach its full potential to improve airmen resilience and well-being.

Key Findings

Four of the five initiatives are perceived positively by stakeholders, and qualitative data support an expansion of these four across a broader section of the Air Force

  • Welcome Centers are well received by users and leaders, and support for the initiative is high.
  • Many elements of the RSTs initiative were highly valued by participants in Phase 1 and remained highly valued in Phase 2.
  • The EMHT initiative has been well respected and beneficial when properly staffed.
  • The OST initiative has made positive contributions to units and may prove even more valuable with some modifications.
  • The NORTH STAR initiative was not successful, and it was terminated during the beta test period.

Each initiative has faced challenges that require resolution prior to the expansion of TFTN

  • Streamlining appointments and minimizing passive briefing time will improve the existing Welcome Centers and any new installations if the program were to be expanded.
  • Ensuring that RSTs can deliver preventive and educational programming with minimal administrative overhead and reducing their counseling burden by ensuring that the EMHT initiative is fully staffed and resourced will help RSTs fully realize their potential.
  • The EMHT initiative was hindered by the disadvantages associated with a contracted workforce, and this was compounded by poor administrative processes and inconsistent human resources policy on behalf of the contracting company.
  • OSTs need more support from the contracting company, Medical Group (MDG) entities, and the 711th Human Performance Wing.


  • Conduct a more thorough evaluation of TFTN using qualitative and quantitative data collected across multiple points in time to determine the effectiveness of the initiatives.
  • Complete frequent evaluations to seek continuous improvement in the initiatives.
  • Pursue authorizations and funding for civil service providers to fill EMHT and OST member roles.
  • Improve the choice of contractor and contract administration if a civil service workforce is not possible.
  • Determine the scalability of TFTN and its individual initiatives for Air Force wide expansion.
  • Ensure that MDG and TFTN parties are aligned in understanding that the top priority of embedded mental health professionals is support to the squadrons in which they are embedded and that the squadrons should be their primary work location.
  • Work with chaplain career field management to ensure that new RST roles are incorporated in mainstream chaplain career development.
  • Develop standardized training for EMHTs and OSTs, and maintain and update curricula as TFTN initiatives evolve.
  • Determine and plan for all preparations and qualifications needed for providers to be able to begin work upon arrival or as quickly as possible.
  • As the beta test concludes and TFTN initiatives are expanded, clarify lines of authority and responsibilities.
  • Develop a clear plan for scaling up and institutionalizing TFTN across the Air Force.
  • Use findings from the beta test to inform modifications that will optimize the TFTN initiatives.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Air Force Directorate of Integrated Resilience and was conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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