WADS DPH Designed and Successfully Implemented Unique Resilience Program

  • Published
  • By Kimberly D. Burke, Western Air Defense Sector Public Affairs

The demands of military service can take a toll on the mental health of service members and their families. Mental health disorders comprise a large percentage of the hospitalizations of military members, and prevention and early intervention strategies are critical for successfully supporting members and families through mental health challenges. 

To help ensure the mental health resilience of Washington Air National Guard Airmen, the Western Air Defense Sector and Washington ANG hired Dr. Gilberto Maldonado as the Director of Psychological Health (DPH) in 2019. Maldonado supports service members and their families by organizing resilience programs, supporting the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) program, and the mental health of Washington ANG members statewide.

Maldonado is keenly aware of the demands of serving in the military.  He spent 20 years serving as a Bradley Linebacker crewmember and recruiter in the U.S. Army.  After retiring from military service in 2015, he completed his Master of Social Work degree at the University of Louisville, specializing in alcohol and drug counseling. Prior to coming to WADS, he was a licensed independent Clinical Social Worker and Substance Use Disorder Professional in Washington state.

In 2021, Maldonado began pursuing a Doctor of Social Work degree where his doctoral research focused on strategies that promote resilience and cohesion in military organizations. His position at WADS provided an opportunity to complete his research while also investing in the resilience of WA ANG members.

Maldonado designed and implemented a resilience program at WADS to promote cohesion and team building as protective factors against emotional and psychological distress. His study compared the impact of the resilience program between participants and non-participants and found qualitative improvements in team building, cohesion, and the value of informal relationships based on the resilience program.

Maldonado recently defended his doctoral research dissertation and achieved a Doctor of Social Work from the University of Louisville. Not only did his project earn him the honorific of “Dr.,” but it created a lasting contribution to the mental resilience of WADS and WA ANG members and their families.

“We learned that Team Bigfoot is a community of military professionals who assess resilience through meaningful relationship building,” explained Col. Antony Braun, 225th Air Defense Group commander. “Creating social capital allows WADS members to face challenges as part of a greater community willing and able to win.”

According to the WADS commander, Col. Travis Boltjes, “The 24/7 no fail mission of WADS can challenge the resilience of Airmen and their families over time. We’ve been fortunate to have Gil on the team over the last 5 years helping us ensure our Airmen remain always ready, always there to guard America’s skies. We appreciate all the hard work that went into his Doctoral of Social Work project and look forward to all the great things Dr. Maldonado has in store for the WADS team and the WA ANG as a whole.”