New Minnesota National Guard team supports members, families

When Army Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke was appointed Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, he outlined three priorities, with “people” at the top of his list. The Minnesota National Guard views its people as the greatest strength and most valuable resource required to complete missions. Fast forward to August 2022 and the establishment of Joint Prevention and Support Services Directorate, known as the J9.

“The Adjutant’s General passion and care for service members, families, and partnerships drives and defines the purpose of the J9,” said Army Lt. Col. Joseph Sanganoo, the team’s director.

The mission of the J9 is to provide responsive and integrated services and support that cultivate sustainable healthy systems and behaviors to maximize readiness and the well-being of the military-connected community, said Sanganoo.

To accomplish that mission, the J9 integrated several separate teams including Family Programs; the Holistic Health and Fitness Program; the Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce; Beyond the Yellow Ribbon; and the Resilience, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention Program.

Today, the five programs work in unison to promote safe, resilient, and healthy environments for all service members and their families.

“We leverage the resources and support across the J9 to assist command teams in maintaining the highest levels of service member and family readiness by capitalizing on protective factors across the force,” Sanganoo said.

The Minnesota National Guard Family Program brings servicemembers, veterans, and their families together to educate, train, and provide resources to enhance individual and family readiness.

In 2023, Family Programs hosted dozens of events while participating in partner and volunteer events, resource fairs, and training to ensure their resources reach the people needing support.

Those events and partnerships provide families the tools and resources to improve their quality of life, overcome obstacles, and thrive in their community.The staff is passionate about serving those who serve. The Child and Youth Services team facilitated training for National Guard youth through summer camps, family overnights, mailed activity kits, and held teen panels and summits.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program conducted 13 deployment cycle events, providing Guard members and their families with invaluable tools before, during, and after deployments.

The Military and Family Readiness Specialist is the J9’s most extensive program, with 14 locations throughout the state. The program works year-round to ensure Guard members and their families have solutions for immediate and long-term needs.

The Beyond, the Yellow Ribbon program, and its proclaimed organizations continued providing support to Guard members throughout Minnesota. In 2023, the program helped 10,300 service members, veterans, and families with 5,300 volunteer hours valued at $168,635.

The Minnesota National Guard’s Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce, or IPPW, began hiring and establishing relationships across the state in early 2023. Their focus is preventing family and domestic abuse, sexual assault, self-harm, and workplace violence.

So far, the IPWW team has trained and credentialed ten dedicated primary prevention specialists and an attorney advisor assigned across the Minnesota Guard.

These preventionists spent the beginning of 2023 joining their assigned commands and forging relationships among the J9 and other programs, including Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Religious Affairs, and Equal Opportunity.

In the spring, the IPPW developed its mission, vision, and strategic vision for the year. Over the summer, the IPPW initiated a first-of-its-kind annual Integrated Primary Prevention Needs Assessment to assess the shared risk and protective factors for harmful behaviors in the Minnesota National Guard.

Holistic Health and Fitness, or H2F, was developed to provide the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to promote servicemembers’ well-being. H2F accomplishes this by addressing the five domains of mental, physical, nutritional, spiritual, and sleep health.

Five state-funded positions, including a nutritionist and physical therapist develop individual content to optimize Guard members’ personal and professional lives.

The Minnesota State Legislature recently approved a $17 million bonding bill for an H2F wellness facility and fieldhouse. The intent is to be a one-stop shop for servicemembers to receive resources from the H2F team and support staff.

The H2F team developed the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Course, or CSFC, and offered it to Army and Air members. The course increased retention rates by 28% for those who attended.

“They taught us how to maintain healthier habits without being miserable and still being able to enjoy day-to-day life,” said one attendee. “I lost 30 lbs. within two months of attending the CSFC. It’s by far the best Army course I’ve ever attended, and I recommend it to anyone who asks about it.”

The Resilience, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention, or R3SP, program provides units with critical resources that emphasize the overall fitness and readiness of Minnesota National Guard members.

R3SP accomplishes its mission by providing Master Resilience Trainers, Ready and Resilient training resources, substance abuse prevention training, Suicide Intervention Officers, and other resources that emphasize the overall fitness and readiness of Guard members.

In September, Soldiers, Airmen, families, and community members gathered near the Arden Hills Army Training Site for a 5-kilometer fun run on World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal was to bring awareness to suicide prevention by connecting individuals while showcasing different resiliency tools and empowering individuals to communicate with someone when they are in need.

“Intervene if you see someone in need or reach out if you are someone that needs help,” said the J9’s Sgt. Maj. Jeanette Chaffee. “The resources within the J9 are standing ready to support you.”

With so many moving parts, collaboration is vital to ensuring success for the J9 team.

The Integrated Primary Prevention Officer, Dr. Leslie Lovett, believes that leveraging collective knowledge, skills, and resources helps provide the best prevention and support service for Guard members and their families.

“We have Family Programs staff teaching a block of instruction in H2F courses,” said Lovett. “The IPPW is gathering data from Family Programs and R3SP to describe risk factors for violence; and at the unit level, we have J9 staff members partnering closely with chaplains, victim advocates, and military leaders to host large retention events.”

That kind of teamwork should serve the J9 well as they continue to grow and create an environment where Guard members, families, and communities thrive in Minnesota.

“We can’t do the work we need to do,” mentioned Chaffee, “if our Servicemembers or their families are not physically and mentally ready to take on the mission.”

By Bob Brown
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs