Wisconsin National Guard revamps service member, family support programs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jon LaDue
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
From the time a Wisconsin service member is notified of a deployment through one year following that deployment, there are countless ripples of change that occur. These changes can carry heavy burdens that can affect the deploying member, family members, employers and even whole communities.

Through the many agencies and programs Wisconsin offers, the help is out there. Until now, however, they have been somewhat segregated and sometimes hard to find. Deploying members and their families sometimes find themselves needing help or information but aren't always sure where to turn. Through Wisconsin Joint Force Headquarters' newly formed Service Member Support Branch, that will soon change.

The SMSB was created in the fall of 2008 to host Wisconsin's three main service member support programs, Badger Yellow Ribbon, Family Program Office and the newly created Joint Family Support Assistance Program.

The SMSB initiative is spurred partly from the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 that strives to continue care for service members following their return from deployment. The NDAA-08 states that Reserve Components will provide service members and families Yellow Ribbon activities and establish the JFSAP program for each state, even after the deployment dates have come and gone.

These three programs will host a large and diverse network of trained service providers, government, non-government, veteran and volunteer agencies that consolidate all the new and existing resources available to Wisconsin service members. The mission of these programs is to promote stability and success throughout the entire deployment process.

The SMSB aims to assist all deploying members, but those of the Reserve Component in particular. The National Guard and Reserve forces have comprised the majority of Wisconsin's 12,000 deploying members since 2001.

The overall goal of the SMSB is to provide Wisconsin's service members and their families "mobile, high quality, effective and efficient assistance" throughout the deployment cycle as well as an avenue to access information and services that contribute to continued health and well-being.

"Many of the NDAA improvements already existed in Wisconsin and we were actively using them," said Lt. Col. Meg Blankschein, SMSB chief. "The NDAA-08 allows us to expand these programs due to increased funding and staff."

The congressionally funded program places a heavy emphasis on implementing reintegration programs to help Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines with the tools they need to successfully transition back into their families, careers and lifestyles.

Together, the BYR, JFSAP and FPO will be able to provide support not only to the service member and their immediate family, but to the extended family such as parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. Employers can also look to the SMSB for their obligations to service members during training and deployments.

The Badger Yellow Ribbon will host more than 15 Ready Family Events in 2009 throughout Wisconsin. These events will cover an array of topics and are open to all service members and their families.

These family oriented events are typically between four and eight hours long with topics ranging from combat stress and coping skills to time management and financial readiness. Family members can be reimbursed for mileage to the events and child care may even be provided for children through the age of five.

"With this new organization, we're doing more events for service members and their families regionally around the state and we're looking to help defray some of the costs for families to attend these events," said Colonel Blankschein. "This allows us to improve our programs offered and offer them to a wider audience."

Wisconsin's JFSAP consists of a number of technical experts and professionals to ensure the correct programs are in place and help is available. The JFSAP is broken down into six primary agencies:

· The Military Family Assistance Center - serves primarily to refer family members of deployed members to community organization that offer an array of services and support.

· The Transition Assistance Advisor - assists veterans returning from deployments with providing information on benefits, educations assistance, employment and other services.

· Military One Source Consultant - This position conducts outreach and coordinates partnerships with organizations to continually build a broader support group for military families.

· Military Family Life Consultants - These members provide short-term and solution-focused counseling to individuals, couples and families. They also provide life skills information and education and referral to other community resources.

· Child and Youth Consultant - This person will provide child development information and education as well as help with parenting techniques.

· Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve - This agency proves education, consultation and possibly mediation for employees and employers of Guard and Reserve service members.

The Family Program Office, unlike JFSAP, has been around for years supporting Wisconsin's military families. The FPO facilitates ongoing communication, involvement, support and recognition between families and service members. They also operate a 24-hour support line to provide assistance around the clock. The number is 1-800-292-9464.

There are many challenges that BYR and JFSAP will look to overcome. Some Guard and Reserve families don't consider themselves "military families" and therefore don't seek out the tools they are entitled to. Another barrier is that many of the Reserve component members are geographically separated from military installations, which increases the difficulty to seek or give help.

Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin Adjutant General, pledged his full support for the programs at a SMSB, support agency meeting and said he expects Wisconsin's operations tempo to keep steady. He also said he is glad the SMSB is uniting all the agencies, programs and volunteers who can assist Wisconsin's deploying members.

"Today what you have is an 'operational' Reserve," General Dunbar said. "This program answers the question: How can I help?"

Every Wisconsin stakeholder under the SMSB will soon sign Memorandums of Understanding which will outline and solidify every organization's pledge to support Wisconsin's military families, said Colonel Blankschein.

All of the new programs, along with Wisconsin's existing agencies will take the new funding and staffing and work together in a collaborative effort to ensure no Soldier, Airmen, Sailor or Marine will go forgotten, whether that be before, during or after their deployment.

For more information on the many programs and services available to service members and their families, contact the SMSB at (608) 242-3480