ARLINGTON, Va. — The National Guard's top officer recently called upon leadership throughout the Guard, asking that Soldiers and airmen, leaders and peers, check in with one another during a Health of the Force campaign.
In his call-to-action, Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Soldiers and airmen are "our most critical asset ... the finest this country has to offer and without them, our mission cannot happen"
"Despite all of our current efforts, October 2015 proved to be a devastating month for suicides, accidents and illnesses in our force," he said.
Through "wellness checks," or checking in with one another, the goal of the campaign is to help reduce these instances.
"The campaign is the National Guard's effort to intentionally check on how their members are doing," said David Schonberg, Suicide Prevention Program manager for the Air National Guard. "If they're struggling, have an unmet need or are going through a tough time, it gives every airman and Soldier a chance to intentionally connect with their supervisor or someone in their chain of command and reach out for support"
Because the Guard is community based, leaders said the loss of life in the National Guard — especially during the holiday season — is a serious concern for them.
"Leadership really wants to drive home that this is a leadership issue and emphasize we take care of ourselves both physically and mentally," said Army Capt. Brian Pennington, the Suicide Prevention Program coordinator for the Army National Guard.
Pennington added that understanding when you need help and reaching out to those around you is a character strength he hopes Guard members embrace.
"One life lost is one life too many," he said. "We want to connect folks with the resources they need."
However, for leaders, intuitively knowing who needs help can sometimes be easier said than done.
"The goal of the campaign is to intentionally create opportunities for supervisors to check in with their Soldiers or airmen," Schonberg said. "We try to maintain a certain degree of connection with all of our members during the month, and sometimes that is a little bit more challenging than others.
"So in response," he added, "the National Guard intentionally wanted to do what we could to ensure our folks were reaching out to one another."
If someone is struggling, Schonberg said, "First and foremost, use your chain of command to connect to as many solutions available."
Some of the other resources available to Soldiers and airmen include the Guard Ready app, the Military Crisis Prevention Line, state or wing directors of psychological health, the Army National Guard site Guard Your Health, the helpline Vets4Warriors, and Military OneSource.
The Air Guard also has the Ready Airman app available.
In the end, Schonberg noted, the Health of the Force campaign reinforces what leaders have always done — look out for those in their units.
"Our members are our top priority," he said. "This is giving us a specific opportunity to put into practice what we all know to be true."