As we reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, both as a company and personally, along with everyone else on the planet, we’re now focused on healing and what that means for community mental health, what we’ve learned, getting our vaccinations, and simply moving forward. The activism that generated such positive results for our country and global neighbors must be celebrated and that includes our National Guard.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it hundreds; thousands; millions of times more. Thank you to the front-line heroes for all their efforts and bravery during an unprecedented and let’s be honest, pretty insane time in our world. As that time goes on and we focus on what our world looks like now, we want to share a rare behind-the-scenes look at how we got to today.
We’ve met some pretty special people who have inspired and impressed us. Before we expose you to absolute awesomeness, we felt it was important to get a shovel and dig deep into the National Guard, which is our focus in this Insight.
What do we really know or rather not know about this community-focused organization and the warriors who are part of it? Let’s find out.
It Starts With Education
The National Guard consists of both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The Army National Guard (ARNG) is one component of the Army, which also consists of the Active Army and the Army Reserve. The Air National Guard is a separate reserve component of the United States Air Force.
The National Guard Website teaches us the history of The National Guard as well as facts we should all be aware of.
- The National Guard was founded in 1636 as a citizen force organized to protect families and towns from hostile attacks.
- Today’s National Guard Soldiers hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training part-time, always ready to defend the American way of life in the event of an emergency.
- National Guard Soldiers serve both the community and the country.
- Their versatility enables them to respond to domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counterdrug efforts, reconstruction missions, and more.
- The Guard always responds with speed, strength, and efficiency, helping to defend American freedom and ideals.
- As a Guard Soldier, their primary area of operation is their home state.
- Any governor or the president himself can call on the Guard at a moment’s notice.
- Typically, Guard Soldiers live at home, where they can be near friends and family while holding a civilian job.
- Drill is scheduled for just one weekend each month while a two-week annual training takes place once each year.
How many facts were you aware of?
The men and women who are part of the National Guard are professionals, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and students, all who volunteer their time and risk their lives to come to our rescue.
With little warning, those enlisted with the National Guard had to report to duty, leave their children and families along with private-sector jobs, without knowing when they would return. This has certainly been a busy year for the 450,000 members of the National Guard.
An unprecedented number of Guard members deployed in 2020 to help authorities respond to natural disasters, the pandemic, and historic anti-racism protests. During the peak of the pandemic along with the numerous riots our country witnessed, 2,000 soldiers and airmen were on active duty supporting the response efforts.
What did the National Guard do during COVID? According to FEMA, they helped distribute food, personal protection equipment (PPE), and other supplies, supported contact tracing and testing, and their medical teams have supported direct patient care and now assist with vaccine administration.
While our lives continue to morph, the front-line workers continue to do what they do best. Many remain active, continuing to manage the ever-changing pandemic response need while fulfilling their normal National Guard duties and civilian jobs.
Meet True Heroes of The National Guard
It’s time to “meet” two incredible people who are part of our National Guard. We were lucky enough to get an inside look at what it was like as a National Guard serving on the front lines during the height of the pandemic and how their incredible work continues to shed light on the significant subject matter our country is plagued with.
Meet Steve Januario from sunny California. He’s been servicing the nation’s military since 1997 and currently holds the title of Inspector General for the 195th Wing of the California Air National Guard overseeing inspections for Cyber Defense, Intelligence, Space and Combat communications. Yep, Steve is an important guy. In his personal life, he’s just as important as a husband and father, as well as the VP of Digital Experience at Palo Alto Networks. Steve will tell you he’s no hero, but we think he definitely owns a cape. When California’s Governor activated the National Guard on March 23rd, 2020, everything changed for Steve and his team.
Steve is no stranger to balancing his career, family, and service life, but the pandemic was on a scale he had never witnessed before. His new home became a hotel and his long days were suddenly filled with duties as a Battle Captain for the National Guard. When he got the call to report, he wasn’t aware of what the role of Battle Captain entailed, but quickly found out as he hit the ground running at 8 AM the next day. He was responsible for managing troops, coordinating where they were at all times, and ensuring they were in the right location to complete the assigned task at hand. If additional medical staff or homeless shelters were needed, Steve made it happen.
None of what Steve experienced was easy. Some of the National Guard members who came in contact with people staying at the shelters were COVID positive and weren’t always welcoming the assistance. Steve and the National Guard were not only exposed to the virus but were exposed to the reality of mental illness. In the hotel Steve called home for seven months, he witnessed all walks of life staying there, many of whom were homeless and had no interest in shelters. It was a destitute scene as Steve described to us, but one that came along with his duties.
Mental health is an important topic for Steve. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that 40% of Americans reported suffering from mental health during COVID including anxiety and depression. Thoughts of suicide, increased drug abuse, and trauma don’t just disappear because vaccines are created. Since a huge focus of Greenfield Groves is on one’s mental health which is a spearhead to whole-body wellness, this topic is also very meaningful to us and our customers.
Aside from providing hope and comfort to those he came in contact with, Steve talked about how crucial it was for everyone, including members of the National Guard, to have an outlet for sharing their mental health issues and one that could also provide solutions. Chaplins were assigned to regions to provide support and inform the troops of the mental health options available to them.
Shifting gears away from others and focusing for a moment on Steve’s health and wellness, he said it wasn’t easy being away from his family. He believes “a great support group at home is key and today’s technology allows for phone calls and video conferencing to make that happen.” He also pointed to his routine that kept him focused and mentally healthy, including discovering a connection with his children, even from far away.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the family support and resources to stay mentally sound, especially during a hectic and scary event like a pandemic. Steve witnessed his comrades take medical leave due to mental issues and while some have taken advantage of the mental health services the National Guard provides, many have not. “What Greenfield Groves is accomplishing is very important at this particular time,” commented Steve.
Steve and his team, along with selfless volunteers served an amazing one million meals in a seven-month time frame to families and California residences that were packaged at various food banks. Everyone worked so hard, was exhausted, and the importance of mental health support became evident.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to live a healthy lifestyle, including getting the proper exercise, diet, sleep, and mental health care. Steve said the long-term effects of COVID, including isolation, loss of work, and of course death, are still appearing. He agrees that easy access to information, telehealth services, and products are a must.
Another individual we feel you must “meet” is Rasheedah Bilal, also a member of the National Guard. To say she is an inspiration is truly an understatement. Rasheedah enlisted in 2010, commissioned in 2015, and now serves as a Plans Officer in 115th Regional Support Group. She has a strong background in Intelligence, proficiency in collaborative tactical and strategic planning, excels in crisis resolution, and thrives under pressure. In addition to her high motivation to be successful, Rasheedah is dedicated to being a servant leader and giving back to her community. Her continued commitment in creating new goals to reach is admirable and makes her a true role model.
That’s just scratching the surface.
Rasheedah gave us a very interesting perspective on being a female in the National Guard as well as someone in a position that demands and commands respect from all. It’s not uncommon for her to be the only female in a room of high-ranking officials. It’s not her focus, but rather a fact that operations roles are typically male-dominated while women in support roles are very common. What she is focused on is bringing her multiple talents to the table at doing her job well, very well, without her gender playing any role.
Fulfilling her National Guard duties has always given Rasheedah a sense of purpose and allowed her to be a part of something bigger. Well, she definitely had her fill during COVID. As she followed her orders to assist her community, she also served and continues to do so, as the Chief Plans Officer for Joint Task Force, 115 Regional Support Group. Rasheedah and her team were responsible for publishing over 200 orders that facilitated and sustained foodbank, medical, logistical, civil unrest, and wildland fire fighting missions, all while balancing her executive career.
Similar to Steve, Rasheedah is a big believer in structure as motivation. Her strengths as a leader and influencer motivate her to get up at 3 AM to meditate and exercise, study her LSATS, and manage her executive career as Chief Operations Officer at Cerberus Protective Services. Her energy and drive are astounding.
Mental health is also a topic of interest to Rasheedah, especially as a leader. She said, “You can’t change people, but as a leader, you can influence and manage them properly.” We can’t argue with that! Talking to her community, listening to their stories, and understanding their struggles allows her to understand what others are experiencing.
Unfortunately, she has learned that “not everyone knows how to ask for help and sometimes you just have to ask if they need it.” When we asked what COVID taught her, she responded, “I am hoping for a shift in how people share their mental health issues and acceptance of vulnerability.”
We’ll leave you with Rasheedah’s motto which we couldn’t agree more with – “Perfection isn’t the answer, excellence is.” The two are often mistaken for one another, but one is a healthy way of achieving personal development while striving for the best. The other, well, it simply doesn’t exist. This way of thinking can help us all take control of our health and happiness.
A tremendous thank you to both Steve Januario and Rasheedah Bilal for taking the time to share their stories and perspective with us during our interview. We would also like to once again thank the entire National Guard and all those front-line workers who helped our country see the light in a time where darkness took over and who continue to support us in our healing process.
While the Coronavirus storm continues to wind down, our world is left plagued with another possible pandemic and that is mental illness. Those suffering before COVID have gotten worse and those who have never experienced mental health problems are now in need of guidance and help. A recent study found one out of three people exposed to the virus have suffered a neurological or psychiatric disorder.
The stress of lost loved ones and jobs, sleep deprivation, and lack of access to medical care during lockdown have all contributed to increased drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top White House coronavirus advisor, is worried about a mental health pandemic that is a very real possibility. Dr. Fauci said, “That’s the reason why I want to get the virological aspect of this pandemic behind us as quickly as we possibly can because the long-term ravages of this are so multifaceted.” His concerns are that “Some of the problems could include prolonged physical symptoms and the economic effects of the pandemic.”
As our country continues to heal and get used to our new “normals”, we cannot ignore the work needed to address the rapid increase in mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we must not be ashamed to share our struggles. The creation of new support channels has arrived and just in time. Private start-ups who are experts in their field spent the pandemic creating products and services to aid in the post-COVID mental recovery.
Companies like Greenfield Groves are helping those who suffer from mental illness take control of their health and happiness with a myriad of head-to-toe solutions needed to keep the mind, body, and wallet sound. Through our distinct brand, It Matters, Greenfield Groves provides mental health and wellness solutions to bring you back to your place of comfort and stability. From on-demand telehealth visits with licensed therapists to complete proprietary product collections developed to specifically support and supplement the mind, It Matters provides simple and affordable solutions for all.