AFDW Airmen achieve confidence, personal insight during Chapel Wilderness Retreat

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lindsey A. Beadle
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
When asked to describe how his day at Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing in New Castle, Va., was going, Airman Basic Patrick Pendergast, 11th Operations Group ceremonial guardsman, chose just one word to define his day.

"Awesome," said Pendergast.

"The time that I've been here has helped me and the rest of these Airmen actually get out and meet new people," said Pendergast. "You can't grow and learn from others like you can here you just can't. This whole thing has been awesome."

The Joint Base Andrews/11th Wing Chaplaincy first advertised the idea of a singles wilderness retreat in the beginning of August this year. Having participated in a similar type of retreat a few weeks prior, chapel staff came away from their retreat with feelings comparable to Pendergast's, and were eager to share this experience with the junior-enlisted service members of JBA and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

"The Andrews Chapel staff participated in a retreat like this already and came away from the experience with a new perspective on their lives," said Staff Sgt. Frank Rivas, 11th Wing chaplain's assistant. "So, we only thought it right to share what was learned with the junior enlisted here."

The 5-day, Permissive TDY, all-expenses paid WAEL retreat, provided Airmen with a chance to not only step away from their day-to-day work schedules for a week, but through WAEL's physically and mentally intense outdoor confidence courses, Airmen were forced to lean on fellow retreat participants, most of whom they had just met. Additionally, through these activities and forced interactions, Airmen had the opportunity to learn about how they personally deal with stress, perseverance and helping others in ways that couldn't have be taught through briefings, or in a regular office-type setting.

"The main point of this whole experience is to teach Airmen who are here about their lives and what they are able to accomplish when they put their fears aside," said Rivas. "This retreat is a different venue for Airmen to talk and learn about their lives - something you can't always do surrounded by higher-ranking Airmen."

The junior-enlisted Airmen on the trip also had the benefit of connecting with some of Andrews senior enlisted members. Through nightly discussions and open group talks, Airmen were able to gain insight on an aspect of the Air Force which only comes with time in service and grade.

"I was asked to be a mentor for this wilderness retreat and I'm glad I decided to go," said Master Sgt. Tanya Preisch 99th Airlift Squadron first sergeant. "Here, the Airmen and I are doing things that we never thought we would do. But, more importantly for the Airmen, I hope this whole experience builds connections that can carry over to when everyone is back on station. This retreat has challenged all who went to take chances and let their guard down - whether it's with facing their fears of heights, small spaces, balance, or of even meeting new people."

Additionally, with no cellular phone reception and very limited internet access, Airmen on the retreat were forced to interact with people they may not have in regular on-base, dining hall, dormitory-type situations.

"You know what? I don't even care about my cell phone this week," said Airman 1st Class Maxim Hodges, 11th Wing Plans and Programs knowledge operations journeyman. "You can't really learn about people if you're constantly checking your phone or Facebook. Plus, we're doing so many activities during the day that I haven't even wanted to talk to anyone on my phone."

Hodges wasn't the only Airmen with this mindset either. Airmen 1st Class Eric Barnard, 811th Security Forces Squadron security forces member, thought the limited amenities of WAEL suited them and their experience there just fine.

"Due to this different, more-relaxed atmosphere, my WAEL group has been working together quite well which is surprising." said Barnard. "With people you've never met before, and I guess even with a few you have, you never know what to expect. But, being here has really surprised me. Yes, zip-lining, rock climbing and the high-ropes exercise were fun, but really, meeting all these new Airmen has been my favorite part of the whole trip."

Like Barnard, by the retreat week's end, most Airmen who attended WAEL weren't focused on the outdoor activities or fears they had overcome, but were instead highlighting the people they had just shared a part of their life with as the best part of their trip.

"When I was caving, I was conquering my fears," said Senior Airman Shelisa Johnson, 89th Communications Squadron knowledge operations journeyman. "I've learned that everyone has something to conquer here though, whether it was during the zip-lining, caving, rock-wall climbing or whatever. That's why this retreat is going so well. We're all doing the same activities, learning from one another and facing our fears - together."

Before attending the retreat, each Airman participated in an online survey that highlighted their personal inner strengths. On the last day of the retreat, Airmen were asked to share the results of their survey and to discuss how they could use their new-found inner strengths with their fellow Airmen on the retreat and with their office back on base.

"Not everyone is going to take the initiative to bring the things they've learned here back to their shop," said Airman 1st Class Tagma Chauvin, 89th Communications Squadron client systems apprentice. "But, I feel what people learn here about themselves is going to translate to other people regardless. Everyone is going to take something away from this whole experience, and that in itself will benefit each unit."

Teaching Airmen about themselves in a week-long setting, away from all digital distractions, was an opportunity afforded to 35 blessed Airmen. According to the input of all the Airmen who attended the retreat, by the week's end, the main goal of the trip had been achieved. Airmen were brought closer together and learned more about themselves then any of them ever could of back on base.

"The main point of this whole experience was to teach Airmen about their lives and what they are able to accomplish when they put their fears aside," said Rivas. "This retreat is a different venue for Airmen to talk and learn about their lives - something you can't always do surrounded by higher-ranking Airmen."