ALPENA, Mich. – Six years ago, Staff Sgt. Tim Frasier made a bold decision.
“I got handed my first restaurant at age 19 – being a manager was good for that part of my life, but I was going to school and I was looking to do something else, but I wasn’t sure what.”
“Then, I ran out of money,” explains Frasier, who now serves as a public health specialist at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) in Northern Michigan.
“I enlisted in the Air National Guard on a whim.”
Fast forward to January 2020 and Frasier is front-and-center at an assembly of dozens of special operations Airmen, delivering a “right start” brief during the opening days of Emerald Warrior 20, a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command exercise staging from Northern Michigan and other locations around the United States. He’s providing guidance to exercise participants for how to avoid sanitation and public health maladies during their training, offering assurance that if any one of them calls with a concern during their time at Alpena, he’ll answer.
Frasier tells his story with humility and determination, the same determination that inspired him to leap from the first phase of his career – in base contracting at the 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan – into an uncertain, part-time position at Alpena CRTC that soon evaporated during a force-shaping realignment.
Given the choice to cross-train into the public health field, Frasier saw it as an opportunity to rekindle an interest in health and wellness he’d first explored while working on a degree in surgical technology.
What Frasier found in public health was an opportunity to connect with others to inspire a change for good. As a one-person team, Frasier now works at a level usually reserved for individuals with vastly more experience – and rank.
“It’s busy, but I like busy because you don’t have the opportunity to be complacent.”
The most frenetic two weeks of Frasier’s year come during Northern Strike, the signature event of Northern Michigan’s joint military training complex, which, in addition to Alpena CRTC, includes Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and encompasses some 147,000 acres of ground training area with the largest military operating airspace east of the Mississippi River.
The exercise is the Department of Defense’s largest annual joint, Reserve component readiness event.
“Northern Strike is intense,” says Frasier. “I remember the first day of the exercise last year. I got a call at 11 o’clock at night saying, ‘There are bedbugs.’ My initial reaction was, ‘There are no bedbugs, we do not have bedbugs, but I will be there in a minute to figure out what it is.’ They ended up being sand fleas, tracked in on someone’s boots – so that’s how Northern Strike 19 started out for me.”
In addition to responding to public health concerns of all varieties during Northern Strike 19, Frasier also helped plan and execute medical response and triage drills involving personnel from the Michigan Air National Guard, U.S. Army Reserves, and the National Armed Forces of Latvia.
“As part of Alpena CRTC’s way of customer service, it’s always about what we can do to make sure their training is sufficient so that they are effective [and lethal] warfighters, as well as promoting the possibility that they may want to come back,” he says.
Frasier has a regular opportunity to make a difference in the training of military personnel from all service branches of the U.S. military, as well as coalition partner countries. However, he says one of the most impactful experiences of his career came recently at an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) event. ASIST is a two-day workshop that emphasizes suicide first aid skills for professionals in helping roles.
The training added new fire to Frasier’s passion for mental health advocacy.
“I think the important thing is that everyone can be a mental health advocate,” says Frasier. “You don’t have to be ASIST trained, but the beauty of ASIST training is that it teaches you to recognize the symptoms of suicidal ideations that aren’t as blatant as self-mutilation and things like that.”
Frasier’s hunger to leave a positive impact on every person he meets is evident in each word he’s speaking. He has followed that passion to utilize the Michigan National Guard’s State Tuition Assistance Program in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He will graduate this semester.
Explaining his desire to build on his psychology degree with a master’s in clinical social work, Frasier pauses.
Then, he gets right to the point.
“Let’s face it – I want to change the world,” he asserts. “I want to change the world because I have to hope for a world that is better than it is today. I’m not saying we live in a bad world, but we can always be better; we can be kinder.”
Frasier says he’s thankful the Michigan National Guard is an organization that prioritizes the well-being and mental health of its Soldiers and Airmen, but more can – and always should – be done to prevent suicide. He says this is especially true within the military community, which has traditionally been marked by a culture of stoicism and stigma toward mental health advocacy.
“That culture is changing, but the progress that’s been made still isn’t enough,” says Frasier. “It starts with people going to ASIST classes, talking with their unit’s director of psychological health – not because they have a problem, but to see what else they can do. Seek out people you might not otherwise know or have the opportunity to know and see the difference you can make in their lives.”
Looking back on his journey these past six years, Frasier can hardly believe the transformation he has experienced; the sense of purpose, teamwork, and openness that has infused his life since joining the Michigan Air National Guard. That sense of community was confirmed for Frasier when he and his husband, Master Sgt. James Fuller, were married. Fuller is also a full-time member of the CRTC staff, and Frasier says their experience serving together has been positive.
“The climate of diversity is also changing in the military – it all comes down to being part of one team with one, shared mission,” he says.
Without question, Frasier has come a long way from that impulsive phone call to the ANG recruiter’s office.
“I am a completely different person than I would ever have expected myself to be,” he says. “It’s one of those things where not everyone may be set up for success, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. You have to find your route – and this just happened to be my route.”
The Michigan Air National Guard’s two primary Wings, the 110th Wing in Battle Creek, and the 127th Wing in Macomb County, both have full-time specialists assigned as directors of psychological health. Frasier can see himself fitting well in a DPH position. Because Alpena CRTC has a smaller full-time cadre, there is no DPH presently on staff – but that doesn’t mean its personnel don’t need mental health resources. Frasier has already stepped up to help fill that void. His reason is simple.
“Given the choice to help, do it,” he says. “You will never know the impact you could have on someone.”