Building Healthy Military Communities Pilot Seeks to Improve Force Wellness, Readiness

WASHINGTON --

The Defense Department has launched the Building Healthy Military Communities pilot program to connect service members with resources and improve readiness across the military population.

Service members, service providers and members of the military community take part in the "Building Collaborative Communities" event.
Service members, service providers and members of the military community take part in the "Building Collaborative Communities" event, hosted by the Building Healthy Military Communities Maryland state coordinator, in Arnold, Maryland, June 14, 2017. The event gave service providers and community resource representatives the opportunity to come together and discuss how to better support the state’s service members and their families. Maryland National Guard photo
Service members, service providers and members of the military community take part in the "Building Collaborative Communities" event. Building Collaborative Communities
Service members, service providers and members of the military community take part in the "Building Collaborative Communities" event, hosted by the Building Healthy Military Communities Maryland state coordinator, in Arnold, Maryland, June 14, 2017. The event gave service providers and community resource representatives the opportunity to come together and discuss how to better support the state’s service members and their families. Maryland National Guard photo

The pilot aims to address gaps between on-the-ground resources and geographically dispersed service members and their families, and in doing so, help improve community health and readiness, according to U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, director of Operation Live Well, a DoD portfolio aimed at improving force readiness.

Now more than ever, according to Elenberg, service members are living off installations. Members are geographically dispersed or isolated, which presents unique needs and challenges for the members and their families, she said.

The pilot aims to better connect service members to the DoD and local resources that already exist, Elenberg said. By helping to close some on-the-ground gaps, the pilot will help build stronger individuals and communities, she said.

Elenberg pointed out the pilot also aligns with DoD priorities, to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Total Force Fitness initiative, a holistic framework for maintaining readiness and well-being.

The framework includes eight domains that work together to optimize human performance and create a connection between mind, body, and spirit. The Building Healthy Military Communities pilot will use the Total Force Fitness framework to further leadership’s mission of returning service members to their communities stronger.

"We want to better understand how health and wellness programs available to service members and families in remote sites come together and if there is anything we can do to further support those programs," Elenberg said.

Connecting Service Members, Resources

The Building Healthy Military Communities pilot is being conducted in seven states -- Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and New Mexico. Those states were chosen because they represent a wide breadth of opportunities and challenges, according to Elenberg.

Laws and availability of resources can vary from state to state, Elenberg said, so it is important to understand what resources are out there for service members and their families, whether federal, state, local or nongovernmental.

"We’ve learned that individual states have unique resources available in their communities," she said. "In order to better serve our people, we want to understand what gaps exist and what is working well."

Strengthening the Force, Improving Readiness

Elenberg underscored the importance for all service members, in both the active and reserve components, to be aware of the services and resources available to them.

Additionally, as the Defense Department relies more heavily on reserve and National Guard members, the pilot helps to understand what resources and services are available to avoid shortfalls in readiness, she said.

The pilot also aims to increase partnerships between the various DoD, federal, state and community resources, Elenberg said.

The first phase began last year with the hiring of state coordinators in the pilot states to help guide the development of state-specific strategic plans, she said. The next phases include better communicating the resources to service members and their families, and utilizing mobile health technologies to promote connection with resources.

Elenberg said the pilot could eventually expand to other states.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)