MADISON, Wis. — Mobilized on March 12, 2020, the Wisconsin National Guard has been on duty continuously supporting Wisconsin's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March, missions have ranged from transporting cruise ship passengers home who were aboard a ship with a COVID-19 outbreak, to staffing polling places on election days, running isolation facilities, and community-based testing. More than 1,200 troops are currently supporting the effort.
To effectively and efficiently respond through the wide variety of missions across the state, Citizen Soldiers and Airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard need the ability to stay mentally resilient.
This is where the Wisconsin National Guard’s Service Member Support Division comes in as they are focused specifically on building mental resilience, managing stress, and reducing risk for our Soldiers and Airmen.
Soldiers and Airmen are assisted by SMSD through five department categories: Deployment Cycle Support, Military Life Cycle Support, Spiritual Readiness, Health Promotion and Risk Reduction and Family Readiness.
“In combination with their family, which is their primary support system,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Urban, the resiliency, risk reduction and suicide prevention coordinator for the SMSD of the Wisconsin National Guard.
“We have our service member’s support division to help them throughout all of it so they can execute their duties,” she said. “The only constant in life is change. So to be resilient means that you’re adapting and moving forward with the way things will be.”
Throughout the entirety of the Wisconsin National Guard’s response to COVID-19, Soldiers and Airmen have been encouraged to seek resources pertaining to building resilience available to them on both Military One Source – a program that connects service members with resources – and the Psychological Health Center of Excellence.
Resiliency support also includes state victim advocate coordinator, Katy Werginz, and individuals throughout each person’s chain of command to talk to, walk with, and provide the information needed to be of assistance when stressors take their toll on a service member’s well-being.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend.” Katy Werginz said. “They may have gone through the same thing or they may notice it, but they don’t know how to bring it up to you. Don’t feel like you’re alone because there are other people. It’s okay to reach out.”
Events hosted by chaplains to boost morale at Joint Force Headquarters in Madison have included early morning bike rides, runs, ruck marches and complimentary pancake breakfasts on Fridays. Each of these events have included motivational devotions joined by Werginz and the organization’s service dog Kevlar. Kevlar is a post-traumatic stress disorder service dog known within the organization for boosting morale in the troops helping ease stress and anxiety and also provides reasoning for individuals to safely come see Werginz without any potential stigma.
Lt. Col. Jessica Yogerst Sullivan, the Commander of the Wisconsin National Guard’s COVID-19 Response Task Force-Medical, who is directly working with the Soldiers and Airmen currently on orders said, “Positivity is contagious. It helps to motivate ourselves and others, improves our health and decreases stress. These are all substantive reasons why it is important to stay positive. It is especially important to continue to stay positive because we don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last.”
“We also want you to be there for one another, and help those less fortunate,” Sullivan said. “Just know that the Wisconsin National Guard is here to help in whatever way we can for the citizens of Wisconsin.”
Spc. Conner Franz, a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier who is actively supporting the state’s response to COVID-19, agreed that mental resilience is really important both for military personnel and civilians alike.
“It’s really, really easy to allow yourself to be caught in this mental trap and become so hyper-focused on the bad things and all the negativity; whether it’s fear, sadness, anger or whatever,” he said. “When you let yourself be overwhelmed by that, it crushes all the goodness and joy in life, and life is meant to be enjoyed. Even if it’s one small thing, we need to find that good thing and really hold onto it.”
The Wisconsin National Guard wouldn’t be able to properly support the state’s response to COVID-19, aid local communities or complete their mission without staying mentally resilient, and that continues to be the main priority of the SMSD, so the Guard’s many ongoing missions can continue successfully.