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Who’s got YOUR six?

Military husband hugging his wife Oregon National Guard Soldiers returned home to Portland, Oregon in mid-August after being deployed in support of Task Force ARROW in Qatar and other overseas assignments. The Soldiers were greeted at the Kliever Memorial Armory in Portland by their friends and family members. (Photo by Master Sgt. John Hugel, Oregon National Guard.)

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“Who’s got your six?” A common phrase dating back to World War I fighter pilots, but co-opted in recent times to focus on service members looking out for each other’s safety and well-being, and to protect each other from harm.

Social support is critical for performance and well-being, but your vast sources of support might not be fully obvious. It’s important to think about your network of loved ones, friends, and others who have your back.

The military continues to form strong bonds forged through rigorous training, shared hardships, daily unit cohesion and knowing that your brothers- and sisters-in-arms are willing make the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s important to recognize that the support you need for your physical, mental and spiritual well-being comes in different forms. Thinking broadly about who’s “got your six” can help alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness, which are risk factors for poor health and mortality.

Social support can also look like this:

  • They’re empathetic and encouraging. Whether it’s a quick text message just to check in, taking your phone call in the middle of the night, or helping you process a recent failure, there are people in your life who you can count on—no matter what. They help you navigate challenges and change. They help you highlight and savor successes too.
  • They challenge you. Your biases might prevent you from seeing beyond your own perspective, which can sometimes impede your ability to accurately evaluate situations you find yourself in, solve problems, and maintain good relationships. You probably can think of someone in your life who pushes you to see beyond what’s right in front of you or challenges beliefs you might have about yourself or others.
  • They know that little things matter, so they’re helpful. Maybe your neighbor puts out your trash when she knows you’re TDY. Or you might have a coworker who brings coffee on busy meeting days. Those around you who know the little things matter—and find ways to assist—can help you more easily manage your day-to-day demands.
  • They support your professional development. Supervisors and other colleagues also “got your six” by helping you develop pathways to your career goals and aspirations. They create opportunities for growth and provide you with vital mentorship and feedback.
  • They help build your resource bank. When you’re struggling or going through tough times, those who “got your six” might be the first ones who are brave enough to tell you when they notice something might be wrong. They recognize and honor boundaries, while leading you to resources that can help improve your coping skills. They support you when you seek help to better cope with things too.
  • They might not come in forms you expect. Support can come from groups within your community, family, and even your pets. Online support groups, sports teams, and recreational clubs also can boost your feelings of belongingness and connection in unconventional ways.

Remember it’s not only about how THEY support you during critical times, but also how YOU support them. This is especially true when feeling stressed, overwhelmed or out-of-control. The bonds you develop can lead you through those tough times.

So the next time someone asks you, “Who’s got your six?” Think about “Who’s six do You have.” Who relies on you? Who do you mentor? Who do you check in on?

And then take a minute to acknowledge those people who positively impact your life. Let them know by giving them a #GotMySix shoutout in one of your next social media posts.

For more information about how social support can improve your performance, please visit the #GotMySix page on hprc-online.org.

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