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NEWS | Sept. 25, 2012

Guard enlisted leader stresses support available

By Claudette Roulo American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - National Guard members should know that they are never alone, even when they are away from their units, the National Guard Bureau's senior enlisted leader said.

The National Guard is a family, and families support each other, Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Denise M. Jelinski-Hall told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service in a Sept. 21 interview.

"There is a support network out there … There's a wide gamut of information and resources available to them," she said. "If there is a need, we have [support available] within the National Guard."

The National Guard's Soldiers and Airmen face a number of unique challenges, Jelinski-Hall said. For example, she noted, Guardsmen can be called up at a moment's notice to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies within their states.

"That means that they're leaving their place of employment, which causes some stress and some hardship … not only on them, but on their employer as well, [and] those that they work with," she said. "That also means that it takes them immediately out of the family situation, which can create a hardship for their spouse, for their children, [and] if they have small children, it also perhaps creates a hardship for child care."

And depending on their rank, Jelinski-Hall said, the difference between Guardsmen's military pay and what they earn in their civilian jobs can create a hardship.

The Guard's second mission, federal service, comes with its own disruptions, Jelinski-Hall said. Deployment lengths can vary widely, she said, taking service members away from their communities and delivering all of the stress that separation entails.

To combat the effects of these stressors, the National Guard has developed a leaders' guide to resilience.

The guide helps first-line supervisors to build resilience in the soldiers and airmen who work for them, she explained, and includes information on risk factors and things supervisors should look for when interacting.

Guard officials also encourage more peer-to-peer interaction through small groups and hands-on leadership, even beyond drill weekends, she said, including staying connected through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

"We also want them to pick up the phone to dial that number and have that conversation with their Airman, their Soldier, to find out what the family is doing and how work is going at their employer," she added.

Staying connected doesn't just mean looking for unhappiness, Jelinski-Hall said. Leaders also should ask about the good things going on in their service members' lives "to make sure that they are being a resilient Soldier and Airman" in all aspects of their lives.

She noted that Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks of "domains" that require attention.

"The emotional, the spiritual, the psychological [and] the physical -- all of those domains that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs talks about are all equally important," she said. "To be that strong, to have that core that is very, very strong so you can be resilient during times that are stressful – those are the things that we talk about with our Soldiers and Airmen."

Suicide prevention is a serious challenge for all military leaders, regardless of their service component, Jelinski-Hall said. It can be doubly challenging for the National Guard, she added, because its units and service members are geographically dispersed.

To reduce the effects of distance, state adjutants general have shared critical data, lessons learned and best practices for years, she said. Also, Guard officials work with communities to identify agencies that can support Soldiers, Airmen and their families.

"Improvement comes with education," Jelinski-Hall said. That means the Guard is working to ensure service members are informed of what resources are available, both for themselves and for their families.

As part of that education mission, the Army National Guard has been placing master resilience trainers into high-risk units, she said. Army National Guard units now share that specialized resilience training with Air National Guard units, she said.

Another educational program, the Ask, Care and Escort Program, known as ACE, is a suicide-intervention training program administered by the National Guard, Jelinski-Hall said.

"We ask our service members questions, [and] we find out about what's going on with them. We care about what is happening in their life, not only with them, [but also] with their families, their employers [and] what's going on in their community. And then we escort," she said.

If there is a need for a service member to get to a professional medical treatment facility or to a professional health care provider, "then we will escort them personally to make sure that they receive that care," she explained.

Two other programs that Jelinski-Hall said have been highly successful for the National Guard are the Yellow Ribbon reintegration program and the implementation of directors of psychological health at each of the 54 joint force headquarters in 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

The Yellow Ribbon reintegration program is a 90-day period following a deployment "when we bring our Soldiers and Airmen together," Jelinski-Hall said. During that period, "we have eyes-on, there's interaction, there's that peer-to-peer support, [and] we're able to perhaps recognize and look for … heightened risk and behavior in some of our Soldiers and Airmen."

The Guard still is struggling to address some issues, she acknowledged. "There is always room for improvement," she said.

Jelinksi-Hall said she would like to see better training for family members. "I think that that's an area that we could probably do a little bit better," she said. "The member gets a lot of training, but I think there needs to be a continuum of training and education for the family member."

Emergent care and behavioral health care for Guard members is another issue that needs attention, Jelinski-Hall said. "We're very much a part-time force, and that means many of our members do not have insurance. … We need to be able to provide them with care regardless of status," she said.

In an ongoing effort to meet this need, the states and territories have worked with local agencies to find either free or scalable types of health care to support Guard members.

Along with the Defense Department, the National Guard sponsors the Vets4Warriors peer support hotline, she said. The hotline was created to conduct outreach for Guardsmen in geographically dispersed areas. The number, 1-855-VET-TALK (838-8255), is a 24-hour hotline staffed by veterans who also are peer counselors.

"We've worked very hard with the Department of Defense to ensure that we have these types of tools and resources [available] to those that aren't near a military treatment facility or a Veterans Affairs office," she said.

The National Guard has a wide variety of support systems that starts at the unit level, Jelinski-Hall said. "We are a family based organization," she added. "We serve with one another not just for years, but for decades in many cases. We are connected."