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National Guard Kicks Off 'Joining Community Forces'
By Army Sgt. Darron Salzer National Guard Bureau
The National Guard has kicked off a new effort to support service members, veterans and their families at the community level.
The "Joining Community Forces" initiative is an expansion of the national-level Joining Forces campaign championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. It focuses attention on identifying grassroots solutions at the community level to assist veterans, service members and their families with employment, wellness, and education issues, said Army Brig. Gen. Marianne Watson, director of manpower and personnel at the National Guard Bureau.
"After 10 years of [continued operations], ... all of the services -- not just the National Guard -- have been reaching out to communities to help solve community-based problems and bring solutions to our service members, families, and veterans," Watson said.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, agreed. "The National Guard is the perfect organization to take the lead with a great program like Joining Community Forces," he said, "because that is where we operate every single day – in the community."
Although Joining Community Forces is a National Guard initiative, Watson said, the program's benefits are not meant for Guard and Reserve personnel alone.
"This effort is for all service members, all veterans, and all families of service members across the U.S.," she said. "It doesn't matter what reserve component or what active component, either still on active duty or you've transitioned to a community, this network is for everyone – active, Guard or reserve."
Watson added that the program may help active duty members transitioning to civilian life find their transition more comfortable.
"They are used to -- or comfortable with -- this network of support they've received through installations previously. ... They overwhelmingly deserve our support and attention in our ability to help them in these areas where they have issues each and every day," she said.
The National Guard Bureau recently signed an agreement with the Corporation for National and Community Service to work together to develop and mature a network of support in the three critical areas of employment, wellness, and education.
Watson said the CNCS already has dedicated more than 100 members of Volunteers in Service to America to help develop and foster this critical network of support at the local level across the United States.
"As the budget situation gets tighter and tighter, this network of support is even that much more important because of the reduction of resources and our ability to continue that support," Watson said. "We need the communities in the states [and the organizations within] to come together and to build that network for our members."
Darla Haines, outreach program manager for manpower and personnel at the National Guard Bureau, said one goal of Joining Community Forces is to establish liaisons in communities who can identify and aggregate local resources for those who might need them.
"We're looking to [establish] a community liaison, or community point-of-contact in that community that is kind of like the 'belly-button' ... of where to go in that community and who knows what is in that community and what the needs are for the service members in that community," she said.
With the drawdown overseas and service members leaving the Guard, the Reserve, and the active duty forces – as well as veterans already in living in local communities – the number of people who need support will continue to grow, and more rapidly than before, she said.
"For our returning soldiers and airmen, reintegration can be challenging," Grass said. "Having someone in the local community who can show these young men and women what resources are available to them to ease that process is a huge service."
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