Ask yourself, “Who’s got my six?”

Social support, in its many forms, 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. For World War I fighter pilots, their “6 o’clock” position, or rear of the plane, was most vulnerable to enemy attack. The term “got your six” originated with those pilots, referring to how they would look out for each other’s safety and well-being and protect each other from harm. For Service Members, it also means that your brothers- and sisters-in-arms are willing to lay down their lives for you.

The strong bonds forged through military service might feel hard to find elsewhere. But it’s important to recognize that the support you need for enduring well-being, mental health, and total force fitness 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 supports who “got your six” 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.

Debrief

Remember supporting others, especially when you feel stressed, can enhance your well-being and strengthen bonds you can depend on in the future too. The benefit is a two-way street, so reflect on how you give and receive support. Think broadly when you ask yourself, “Who’s got my six?” During HPRC’s #GotMySix campaign, take a minute to acknowledge how those people impact your life: Thank them on social media and include #GotMySix in your post.

Resources

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237. doi:10.1177/1745691614568352

Jex, S. M., Kain, J., & Park, Y. (2013). Situational factors and resilience: Facilitating adaptation to military stressors Building psychological resilience in military personnel: Theory and practice. (pp. 67–84).

Robinson, M., Raine, G., Robertson, S., Steen, M., & Day, R. (2015). Peer support as a resilience building practice with men. Journal of Public Mental Health, 14(4), 196–204. doi:10.1108/jpmh-04-2015-0015

Sripada, R. K., Bohnert, A. S. B., Teo, A. R., Levine, D. S., Pfeiffer, P. N., Bowersox, N. W., . . . Valenstein, M. (2015). Social networks, mental health problems, and mental health service utilization in OEF/OIF National Guard Veterans. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 50(9), 1367–1378. doi:10.1007/s00127-015-1078-2