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Top Enlisted Advisors Emphasize Quality of Life Issues

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena,
  • National Guard Bureau

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Over 500 American Legion members representing thousands of years of military service listened to the highest-ranking senior enlisted leaders discuss the importance of enhancing quality of life to improve operational and personnel readiness. 

“It does not matter what uniform you wear. We are all part of this joint fight,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass. “When you look at the challenges we have in the future, our adversaries are not interested in beating the United States Air Force. They are focused on how they can become the world’s dominant power. So it will take a whole-of-government and a whole-of-nation to make sure we can still defend our freedom.”

Moderated by Jason M. Vanderhaden, retired 13th master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, and hosted by the American Legion, the 90-minute panel drew reps from all 50 states, three U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and overseas Aug. 26. Topics ranged from health and child care to mental health and living conditions, with a spotlight on National Guard and Reserve issues.

Leaders announced an Army child care program focused on the needs of National Guard and Reserve members, who often encounter additional challenges when called in for drill.

“These challenges are especially acute for dual military families or single parents,” said Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau. “The program and others like it represent our ongoing commitment to identifying and implementing solutions that improve the quality of life for our service members.”

In response to a question about mental health, the leaders acknowledged widespread shortages in mental health resources. Bass emphasized the critical role that strong, supportive leadership can play in enhancing the mental well-being of service members.

“We might be short mental health providers, but we are not short leaders,” said Bass. “When I talk to our mental health providers, they share that only two need clinical support out of every 10 Airmen who walk into mental health. The other eight simply need to know that somebody cares. We have got to get back to true connection and eyeball-to-eyeball leadership.”

Command Master Chief Matt R. Harris, senior enlisted advisor to the U.S. Navy vice chief of naval operations, revealed a new program adapted from Navy SEALs and elite athletes to help Sailors manage stress. 

“Our Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, James Honea, sent a series of letters out to the mess with his call to action, and (in) one of those (letters), he talked about the importance of and the responsibility of the chief petty officer to be embedded in mental health. To have that embedded connection with their Sailor to know if something is wrong,” Harris said.

U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Perry, the senior enlisted advisor to the assistant chief of staff, G9, said improving living conditions is a top priority.

“The secretary of the Army has committed $1 billion annually from the Army budget for the next 10 years and allocated both for constructing new barracks and renovating existing, older facilities,” he said. “This significant investment displays the attention that our senior leadership is paying to ensure that no service member lives in substandard conditions.”

Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz underscored the importance of quality of life.

“Quality of life — what is that? To you, it is something; to you, it is something different; to everyone, it is something different,” he said. “But what I do know is that it is something constant. The key word is quality — the quality of people — that we must bring in.”

One consistent theme emerged across all military components: Leaders from every service branch take these quality-of-life issues seriously.

“It’s discussions like these that make us more united, informed and prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead for our military and our nation," Whitehead said. "Thank you to everyone who attended and a special thanks to the American Legion for making this event possible.”