FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Wisconsin National Guard leaders now have another tool to address challenges Soldiers and Airmen face in their military and civilian lives that affect readiness for state and federal missions.
The Wisconsin National Guard’s Comprehensive Health and Wellness program offers a course to equip unit leaders with tools to help their troops overcome obstacles to the five pillars of health and wellness.
On April 2, the largest class served by the Comprehensive Health and Wellness leader course completed a week of training at the Wisconsin Military Academy in Fort McCoy. First Lt. Meghan Skrepenksi of the 115th Fighter Wing is an instructor for the course and has been a part of the health and wellness program for about three years since beginning in a previous iteration of the course.
The new course has added aspects Skrepenski hopes will change the culture to focus on the five pillars of health and wellness: fitness through financial, social, mental, physical and spiritual stability.
Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen who serve in the Wisconsin National Guard must balance many competing military and civilian demands. They drill one weekend a month and attend a two-week annual training, in addition to military schools and training. Some juggle full-time civilian jobs, college, parenting and community service. They can be mobilized at any time in Wisconsin, as they have been the past year to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil disturbances, or for federal deployments to combat zones worldwide.
Balancing it all can be a tall task, and the Comprehensive Health and Wellness Program aims to help troops find that balance.
“We have 36 leaders right now who are going through this course,” said Skrepenski. “They’re trying to learn new ways that they can work with their Soldiers and Airmen so they can help them overcome life’s struggles and find balance in their lives. Whether they’re in or out of uniform, it doesn’t matter. We want to make them to be the best Soldiers, the best Airmen, the best people that they can be.”
When a Soldier or Airmen fails a fitness test, for example, it could be due to one or more of those pillars being out of balance, Skrepenski said. She believes empathetic leaders who can relate to the struggles a Guard member may be facing will be better able to help them take ownership of their life and improve themselves.
“Previous iterations of a course similar to this were aimed only at fitness,” said Tech. Sgt. Jake Hansen, a radar airfield weather systems craftsman at Volk Field who is assisting with the course. “The health and wellness leaders course is more of a holistic approach. The idea is to instill lasting and meaningful behavior change. It’s not about just getting a person to pass a test. It’s about finding the underlying cause of the issue and helping them to provide solutions so they can meet their goals. It’s a more meaningful and lasting approach to wellness.”
During the course, Guard members can meet with financial advisers and focus on fitness through resources like a running clinic.
Second Lt. Mason Higgins, a platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, took the course to bring change to his unit and help others who may be struggling.
“The 127th has had some tragedy in the past year and I think it’s important that leaders come to these kinds of courses and gain the skills to help better address Soldiers’ needs and to better care for their Soldiers,” Higgins said. “I’m really happy to be here today and work toward sustaining those skills. I’m impressed so far with what we’re learning and the idea of converting to a more compassionate form of counseling with our Soldiers.”
Higgins said the most valuable thing he’s taken away from the course so far is perspective.
“There’s a lot of vulnerability here,” said Higgins. “My classmates are being very honest and candid, and we’ve heard some past testimonials from previous course participants. It helped me see things a bit differently and learn some new perspectives about what Soldiers go through and possible reasons why they go through those things.”
Higgins, who is in law school, said the Wisconsin National Guard has challenged him and given him opportunities.
“I’ve been given the chance to do my best in a lot of cases and I’ve always felt supported to have what I need to do my best in those cases,” he said. “So it’s important for me as a leader to make sure that my Soldiers are also being challenged and have what they need to do their best.”