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Know Your Military: Master Sgt. Chance Biller

Master Sgt. Chance Biller sits for a series of portraits for his "Know Your Military" interview at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Mar. 14, 2018.

Master Sgt. Chance Biller sits for a series of portraits for his "Know Your Military" interview at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Mar. 14, 2018. Biller has made the choice to speak openly about his struggle with mental health, and has become an advocate for others struggling to seek help through the numerous support resources the military offers.

128th Air Refueling Wing, Milw. -- Lead, follow, or get out of the way! This is a phrase often used in the military to accentuate the need for our leaders to pilot us to victory. It also offers opportunity for our Airmen to step up in throes battle and take hold of a situation so that others may fall in line to support. MSgt Chance Biller has taken this to heart and is leading the effort to battle the stigmatism surrounding mental health in the military. Biller has made the choice to speak openly about his struggle with mental health, and has become an advocate for others struggling to seek help through the numerous support resources the military offers. The following is a transcription of an interview with Biller on Mar. 14, 2018.

Public Affairs: Thank you for meeting with me MSgt Biller, let’s start with where and when did your military career begin?


Biller: In 1998 I had just joined the 440th Air Lift Wing. I was at a crossroad in my life, and I needed to do something different, joining the military was the best decision I ever made. 


Public Affairs: You are in your 20th year of service, what type of experiences have you had in the deployed environment? 

Biller: I’ve deployed twice, the first time was 2005 and 2006 for a year, five months at Charleston AFB and seven at Al Udeid Air base, Qatar. The second was in 2013 and it was a six month tour to Al Udeid.


Public Affairs: You must have seen a lot and been in a lot of different places. What has been your single most memorable experience?


Biller: That would have been my first deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. I had the opportunity to escort two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War around the base, as part of a USO tour. It was an incredibly humbling experience. 


Public Affairs: As a guardsman serving in a full-time status do you ever find it hard to relate to civilian life? 

Biller: Absolutely I do. Somebody once told me being in the military requires us to be efficient at many things all the time. Whether it be our actual job, physical fitness, additional duties, or being prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice. In a civilian career-field  you often only have to be proficient at one thing. The real challenge in the military is that sometimes you feel like you are unable to be as efficient as you’d like to be; it can emotionally wear you down after a while. 


Public Affairs: How do you feel the stress of working in a military environment affects your personal life?


Biller: They say you should leave your work life at work and your home life at home, that’s impossible. Emotions can’t distinguish locations and they do not have an on and off switch, you carry them with you no matter where you are. The only way to get through depression is to get help, and not leave it at work or home.


Public Affairs: Many people that have served as long as you have typically see and experienced a lot. Do you feel like your military career has ever been a burden?

Biller: At times it has. Things happen in your career that you don’t expect. Circumstances prevent you from accomplishing the things you need to do and as they stack up it can become very overwhelming. 

Public Affairs: You have been open about your experience dealing with depression. For example, you have spoken to several squadrons in an open forum. What life experiences impacted you and brought you to the point you realized you needed to get help?

Biller: I’ll try to give you the reader’s digest version [chuckle]. In 2008, shortly after I took a full-time position here at the 128th I was diagnosed with cancer and I had to have a tumor removed. That was a very terrifying experience for myself and my wife, but we got through it. A couple years later I was diagnosed with blood cancer, I was treated for that and again everything went well. Fast forward to 2013 I was getting ready for my second deployment, a week before my ship date my father had passed and my mother was fighting cancer. I was told I didn’t have to go, but I didn’t feel good about making someone take my place with such short notice. I talked to my mother, and she made me feel okay to go. Shortly after I got to my deployed location I found out my uncle, who I was very close to, had passed. On top of that my wife and I were working through our own problems and that’s when I just broke. I knew then that I had to get through my deployment, because I didn’t want to let anyone down, but it was a struggle. When I got home, my wife and I were still dealing with some issues, and I knew that if I didn’t seek help I was going to lose her and lose everything. That wasn’t acceptable to me. 

Public Affairs: Is that when you decided you were going to seek help?

Biller: Yes, that’s when I started seeking help through base services. I spoke with the base psychological health office and they guided me through the right channels. They got me connected with military one source, and that’s when I realized the benefits of seeing a counselor. I’ve never seen an entity work so hard to get help for someone. They give you the resources, and once I got past the illusion that it was going to affect my career, it was pretty painless. 

Public Affairs: People can deal with depression very differently. How did your feelings of depression manifest themselves on a daily basis?


Biller: There were days I would wake up and be angry that I was alive. I felt so lost and just wished I would have stayed sleeping. I love my family, I love my wife, and they are all very important to me, so I knew taking my life wasn’t an option for me. I knew that I needed help. 


Public Affairs: Do you believe being in the military and suppressing feelings of depression are sometimes associated?


Biller: I absolutely do. It’s because of the stigma that if you go seek help and admit you have mental or emotional problems that you will be put on profile and prevented from doing your job. People join the military to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and you don’t want to feel like you are letting anyone down. The unknown repercussions are the scariest part about coming forward, but once I got past that I realized that it is okay to go get help. The military wants you to go get help, that’s why they give us such great resources. 

Public Affairs: You have given speeches about your efforts to seek help. What barriers did you run into when you decided to seek help?

Biller: The biggest barrier was me. The thought of how it could affect my career or prevent me moving forward was my greatest concern. 


Public Affairs: Is this a battle you still continue to fight to this day?


Biller: It is. I don’t think emotions ever stop. I’ve come to realize certain things in life can draw you right back in to those feelings of depression. Seeking help once doesn’t mean you are automatically fixed. Sometimes you need an emotional tune-up or verbal medication even if the worst is behind you. 

Public Affairs: What do you say to someone that may be feeling shame or guilt about their feelings of depression?

Biller: It takes a strong individual to step up to the plate and say “I need help.” Once you take that first step and get the help you need and feel the results, you’ll come to understand that what you are doing is well worth it, and you are a strong person for doing it. 

Public Affairs: Thank you for sharing your story Chance, and thank you for being an advocate for so many that are struggling with mental health. 

Sometimes strength means asking for help, but it can also mean asking someone if they need help. By being a good wingman and showing you care you may save a life. If you see someone in need of help or counseling, remember ACE.

Ask: Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm.

Care:
Actively listen to show understanding and produce relief.

Escort: Bring them to their chain of command, Chaplain, behavioral health professional, or primary care provider.