By Sgt. Rachel S. Krogstad, Army ReserveApril 26, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (April 26, 2013) -- The National Research Summit on Reserve Component Military Families was held Thursday and Friday, April 25-26, 2013, on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler joined a broad mix of nearly 300 DOD, healthcare and civilian academic professionals from 30 states who met in Ann Arbor to discuss the need to work collaboratively to address the resiliency needs of Reserve and National Guard service members and their families.
"The skills, the best of what we have, should be brought to service for those who are returning home. When you are coming back as a member of Reserve or Guard, you aren't coming back to a military base," said Dr. John Greden, executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, and one of the summit leaders. "We worry about this, and care about it."
In the past decade of conflict, the DOD and its services have learned much about the needs in family situations, before, during, and after mobilizations, but Reserve component families have unique challenges that often cannot effectively be addressed the same way as an active component family's needs.
Reservists tend to live much farther away from military installations, where the bulk of resources are located that could help them.
"Sixty-three percent of military families live in the community. That includes reserve and active component. Yet, the majority of programs are on installations. That's a huge discrepancy," said Dr. Michelle Kees, conference chair, clinical psychologist at the University of Michigan, and spouse of a former National Guardsman. She works with military family initiatives at Military Support Programs and Networks, or M-SPAN.
"I'm a big supporter of the movement for resiliency programs, and integrating these programs into our communities and creating public-private partnerships. With our [Reserve component] families living in 4,000 communities nationwide, we can't just have programs on installations. We have to work with our community providers. We have to be able to work with our local area to build the supports and build the programs in place," she said.
This approach of involving communities in the care of their Reserve component service members and their families not only addresses the needs of those individuals, but also creates opportunities for the community to become more involved with the U.S. military.
"Since we have a voluntary military force, a significantly smaller percentage of people are going to war compared to when we had a draft," said U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Katherine White, summer term instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents.
"Before people came back [from war] and they knew others around them who had a similar experience, and now that's not the case. It's really important that the whole society is involved in understanding what's going on," said White.
Greden acknowledged that the geographic isolation is sometimes furthered by veterans not wanting to seek help from people who do not have first-hand experience of the situation they are coming from.
"I think one has to break through the protective barrier. I can remember being told to by the individuals who had been [deployed] early on, 'you haven't been there, you don't get it, and we take care of our own.' We started to say, 'let's use that instead of criticize it,'" said Greden.
This new concept of using internal trust led the Michigan National Guard and University of Michigan to start Buddy-to-Buddy, a peer-to-peer program, and integral part of M-SPAN.
Greden said the program trains Guard and Reserve current or former members to "become allies to bring people in who need help." This gives service members someone they can turn to for advice, and "if necessary to identify a place they can go for specific treatments for sleep disturbances, suicide risk, or other aspects. Putting all of that together, that program has been very helpful," said Greden.
In addition to Buddy-to-Buddy for service members, M-SPAN also provides current and former military members and their families with programs and networks that provide support groups, parenting and relationship training, and guidance for those entering civilian education.
"The family program that we're working with brings together the resources of spouses, partners, parents, [and] children. All of those people also do their own kind of struggling and our goal isn't just to say 'oh, let's help them,' the goal is to help the entire [family] unit," said Greden.
Distance from resources and other military families were not the only problems addressed during the summit. Chandler, the event's keynote speaker, discussed another key aspect in delivering support to Reserve component families: the need to reduce stigma around service members asking for help with family and mental health issues. He used his own story of a rocket exploding in his room during a 2004 deployment and the effects it had on his personal life as an example of a common military story that needs to be addressed.
"There are several ways a person can react in this type of situation," he told the nearly 300 attendees. "In my case, I really turned off my feelings. I kept this inside me, knowing something was wrong. I became destructive, started to drink more, lost my connection with my family, and I made some bad personal choices."
After three years of destructive actions, he overcame the military's notorious stigma regarding behavioral health and sought help, "My relationship with my wife and kids greatly improved, and I stand here today a better husband, father, Soldier and person because of the counseling I received."
The planners of this summit and the Reserve component service members there said they are proud of the role Michigan and other states have taken. They hope the summit will encourage other states to develop more resiliency resources for their military families.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jean Isaac Odell, Michigan Army National Guard state family programs director, explained why her state has been so involved in getting community-based programs up and running.
"We do not have a military base, here, in Michigan. We are not active duty, but we do activate many Soldiers. This affects many families, and children throughout the state of Michigan. It's the best way for us to support our families, and our Soldiers, spouses throughout the state of Michigan and make better living conditions," said Odell.
"If we do this on a collaborative basis and we address the specific issues of concern that they care about, if we listen to the families, if we listen to the citizen-Soldier, [and] if we listen to the leadership, we're going to respond to the things that are more important. One of the compliments I heard from the leadership of the Michigan National Guard is that we have been very helpful to them. As long as we keep getting that kind of feedback, being called a force multiplier, things like that, I think we are ready to keep doing what we're doing, and I hope it's helpful," said Greden.
The summit participants and planners from M-SPAN stated they will use results of this event to encourage the development of similar and expanded programs in other states.