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Historically, freedom has not been freely given or easily won

July 4, 2014

By Maj Gen Donald P. Dunbar, Wisconsin Adjutant GeneralWisconsin National Guard leaders view New York homeland defense efforts

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, representatives of the 13 American colonies of Great Britain put pen to paper in a bold declaration of their intent to pursue self-rule. While that right of self-determination would not be realized for another seven years, we recognize July 4 — the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by members of the Continental Congress — as our nation’s birthday.

The immensity of that declaration may not be fully appreciated today, as our nation has largely enjoyed the unalienable rights laid out by Thomas Jefferson — including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — for more than 200 years. But at that time, demanding emancipation from the world’s greatest political and military power was not an act lightly considered. The governing powers in Great Britain certainly were not inclined to oblige such an audacious request, and many colonists were reluctant — if not outright opposed — to cut ties with the mother country.

The declaration, therefore, was written not just for the king of England, not just for the members of British Parliament, and not just for the American colonists — it was written for a global audience. In a very real sense, our nation’s founding fathers were making their case before “the opinions of mankind” — in effect, serving an indictment on the crown.

And the global audience at the time was much like Great Britain. While England’s Parliament overthrew the monarchy there in 1649, by 1660 the crown was restored. The French government which allied itself to the American colonists was itself a monarchy that would be overthrown by its citizens later in the 18th century. Kings and emperors ruled the world at the very time America declared it was done with kings and emperors. That was a bold statement of independence.

As impressive a document as the Declaration of Independence has proven to be, and regardless of the weight or consequence of the 56 signatures affixed to that declaration, it would take more than words on paper to alter the course of history. That task had already fallen to the Minute Men, to the colonial militia — some of whom might have previously served alongside British Redcoats defending the colonies in skirmishes with Native Americans or the French. While many militiamen would form the Continental Army as a professional force to tilt against the powerful British Army, others would remain in local militia units, on guard against any threat.

One of the complaints lodged against the British in the Declaration of Independence was England’s practice of maintaining a standing army in the colonies, even in times of peace. The British army was essentially immune to colonial civil authority, and colonists were frequently ordered to provide food and lodging to British soldiers, without compensation. Once America had won her independence, her Army was greatly reduced. The role of defense largely returned to the local militias — the forerunners of today’s National Guard. This practice of building up the military and drawing it down again would continue for scores of years, until the United States’ responsibilities as a world power required maintaining a sizable standing military.

Much of today’s military is effectively hidden from public view, living and training on military reservations across the country. Members of the National Guard, however, continue to live and work in cities and towns in every state and territory, maintaining a vital connection between the citizen and the military. Unlike the Redcoats who were unwelcome boarders during colonial days, the men and women of the National Guard are neighbors, friends and coworkers.

The freedom sought in the Declaration of Independence, won in eight years of fighting the strongest nation on earth, and maintained in conflicts ever since, was the right of self-determination. Our nation’s dedication to equality is expressed in the Armed Forces, as the military continues to provide new opportunities and repeal old barriers for those determined to serve their country. We share the cloth of our nation’s uniform in this sense.

American democracy began as a noble experiment that endured and continues to be improved because of people committed to the idea of liberty. In the same way, the U.S. military — and the National Guard in particular — endures and improves because of the dedication, sacrifice and innovation of its members. And so long as that spirit lives in our hearts, then the stars and stripes will continue to fly over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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The military is making real behavioral health progress

PTSD June 27, 2014

By Bob Evans, Director of Psychological Health

As a director of psychological health and a Soldier who has deployed several times, I have reflected on the behavioral health issues that confront Soldiers at all levels of service, especially in view of the publicity this has gotten in the past few years.

Many civilians seem to think that the majority of service members have, or are subject to, behavioral health disorders — of which the most likely candidate is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is also an opinion that if you have a disorder such as PTSD, you have a serious medical illness which will lead to continuously degrading capabilities, relationships and career achievement.

This is not true or even close to the truth as regards to behavioral health issues or PTSD for Soldiers, most of which recover and lead highly successful lives.

Where the Army specifically — but also the services in general, particularly with ongoing treatment through the VA — differs from the civilian community in meeting the challenge of behavioral health needs is that the U.S. military has tried, with increasing success, to actively address these issues. This has led to the transparency of behavioral health issues both in terms of incidence and treatment to everyone as the Army tries to decipher and measure the problem.

Essentially, the Army — in a broad-reaching effort to normalize stress reactions and increase its cultural competency in addressing them — has put itself under a microscope.

I started in developing behavioral health, or combat operational stress, services in the ’70s, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War — and at that time both, the level of resources and treatment of behavioral health issues in the Army were minimal to say the least. I was involved in developing effective battlefield treatment strategies both in working with the schoolhouse at Fort Sam Houston and in operationalizing methodology during many exercises and while deployed during Operation Desert Storm.

Such services were often marginalized or discounted as being unnecessary in the Army’s inventory of deployable units and services. Fortunately, a few very committed advocates were able to maintain them.

Slowly the recognition of the value of such services grew, as the recognition of the effectiveness and humanization of treating behavioral health issues in the Army increased through the years. The corresponding issue of TBI recognition grew with the advent of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as a higher level understanding of the effectiveness of behavioral health treatment in maintaining the fighting strength on the battlefield.

Concurrent with OIF/OEF, the Army launched a campaign with the advent of Battle Mind training — now replaced by the more useful and functional Resiliency Training — to help Soldiers understand that the emotional reactions they are experiencing are in fact often normal reactions to abnormal experiences or stimuli. The Army has developed far-reaching and effective programs to deal with the ever-concerning issues of suicide.

During most of my career I was a reserve Soldier, working in the civilian sector and providing, supervising and managing behavioral health services. Never in my civilian career have I seen the organizational commitment, along with the financial commitment, to address behavioral health issues that the Army has displayed over the last decade. The cultural change of the Army over that period — and it is still in transition — is dramatic.

We now understand that Soldiers who may have such issues are fully capable of performing their mission once they gain an ability to manage their affliction. In fact, they may be stronger in their performance than before — and an effective mentor to help others undergoing such issues to understand and get assistance to manage their distress.

While headlines focus on problems facing “broken Soldiers,” the military’s effort to deal with, normalize and overcome those behavioral health issues gets scant attention. My belief is that, thanks to those efforts, we have a more self-aware, less stigmatized and effective force than we have ever had.

Can we make improvements, especially in our understanding and effective treatment of behavioral health and stress issues? Of course. Having said that, I believe the Army at this moment is well positioned to effectively respond to a Soldier experiencing such issues.