One of the newest members of the Air Force Reserve Advisory Council hopes to bring a focus on mental health education to the force.
“I’ve had and have clients who have been in the military,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gayla Gibson, a licensed professional counselor in her civilian career. “You have some military members who, they will drive or they will pay out of pocket for fear of reporting it to their superiors or their squadrons or what have you. So because they fear the ramifications, what is that going to do to my career?”
Gibson, who serves with the 482nd Mission Support Group at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, was one of 10 new council members announced at the Air and Space Forces Association Warfighter Symposium earlier this year.
Council members advise the chief of the Air Force Reserve and his representatives in relation to Department of Defense policy and legislative issues, according to a news release.
Gibson said she is looking at things to “better” mental health and resilience within the reserves, particularly education.
“So making sure the members, as well as the commanders and the other leaders, are on the same page,” Gibson said. “They understand how the process works, what the process is. Members understand that just because they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, it’s not a career-ending thing. So helping – starting with that education piece so there’s more transparency … [and we] can then move to helping the members. Giving them the way forward to continue to be able to serve, which is what they want to do.”
Gibson said the council is a “great team of people” that’s broken into groups based on topics that are pertinent to the individual.
“We have that group of mental health resilience, retention/recruitment, barriers to service,” she said. “All of us coming together, bringing our experience, bringing our knowledge, being able to reach out to all of these different people to help us, to make things better for members of the reserve.”
Joining the Reserve Advisory Council was a way for Gibson to give back and help others in the force that she said had given her so much. She joined the Air Force Reserve in 2001 and spent most of her career at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
“It has been awesome, for the most part,” she said. “Of course, you have your bumps here and there, but I pretty much grew up at Scott Air Force Base in the same squadron … From airman, senior airman all the way up to chief. I had some great mentors, great friends … Those mentors saw something in me, that I didn’t see in myself.”
Gibson said she owes a lot of who she is to the Air Force. She has been with the Mission Support Group at Homestead since September 2022 after spending most of her career in medical.
“As chief, now I’m touching more people,” she said. “So it became … ‘I’m affecting this many people, what can I do next to affect a larger group?’”
The council’s work, according to Gibson, isn’t restricted to just what the members think. Rather, members reach out to their wings, squadrons and groups to have conversations and bring that back to the full council.
Gibson will serve a two-year term on the council.
“I won’t be there forever, and we’re just starting out,” she said. “But I would just like to urge anyone who feels passionately about making change, about helping to make the force better for the future forward, to consider becoming a part of the council because it’s a great opportunity beyond connecting with different people, beyond the professional development opportunities, it’s that opportunity to make such a huge difference.
“And understanding that you may not be, in your term, your two-year term, you may not be able to see the end result, but just knowing that you started it and you’re pushing it forward then passing it on the next, it’s a great opportunity.”