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NEWS | May 10, 2024

Virginia Guard Takes Holistic Approach to Health, Readiness

By Mike Vrabel, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

RICHMOND, Va. – While the Virginia National Guard has long had dedicated personnel ready to respond to a Soldier or Airman in crisis, a new team of specialists focuses on prevention to help maintain the force’s readiness and health. 

The Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce is a team of eight prevention specialists led by William Downey, the VNG’s integrated primary prevention officer.  

“Our mission is to pursue a holistic approach of integrated primary prevention aimed at preventing harmful and violent behaviors such as sexual assault, harassment, domestic abuse, child abuse and suicide in our state and military communities,” said Downey. 

Congress required each state and territory to create IPPW teams to address harmful behaviors impacting service members and their families. The VNG team was established in September and works with existing entities like the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.

“Our team focuses on analyzing unit data to identify persistent barriers to readiness at the individual, relationship, and community levels,” explained Downey. “After conducting a needs assessment, our team will work with commanders and other unit leaders to implement changes or activities that meet their specific needs.”

Members of Downey’s team have experience from military and civilian backgrounds and share a passion for prevention and helping people. 

Destiny Hairston, assigned to the 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, spent time working with abused women during her two years in the human services field. 

“I think that’s really when I connected with people,” said Hairston. “It goes from helping them learn life skills and putting their life back together after being physically abused by the person that’s supposed to love them.” 

Kasie Grover, the team’s self-harm prevention specialist, is a former service member and a military spouse who worked in a Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program. 

“Being on the response side, you hear everything, and it’s all connected,” said Grover. “So when I heard about this team launching, I said that’s awesome, because that’s what we need — prevention — to get ahead of the issues.”

Justin Kornfeld decided to join the team after years of working in corporate America and serving in active duty, Guard and Army Reserve, where he continues to serve part-time.

“Being able to get back to the community, which was really good to me is so important,” said Kornfeld. “In this role, I can really affect change in people’s lives.”

Downey said he hopes the benefits his team will impart on the VNG’s formations will be substantial. 

“Our efforts are to foster a community of practice that encourages healthy habits, empathy, communication and help-seeking behaviors,” he said. “We also want to cultivate the values of inclusivity, connectedness, dignity and respect.”

 

 

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