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NEWS | Dec. 27, 2022

Taking on harmful behaviors in the Illinois National Guard

By Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General, Illinois National Guard

Albert Einstein once said that “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

While I’m no genius, I’ll one-up Einstein and replace “thinking” with “actions.” Consider the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment, discrimination and prejudice, suicide, and counterproductive leadership within our ranks. The military has tried to address these issues by using the same types of training year after year. Unfortunately, these problems still exist. We’ve made some progress but have failed to significantly move the needle toward positive change.

The Task Force Restore Trust pilot training was an attempt to change our thinking – and actions. It represented a change in how to approach these issues. By the end of October, 12 units had participated in the pilot training. We gleaned great information from these units and, based on this data, we’ve decided to end the Task Force Restore Trust pilot and begin the transition to our new prevention workforce as a more permanent solution.

With Integrated Prevention Officer Matt Palisano in place and with most of his prevention workforce professionals already hired, now seems to be the right time to start that transition to this new team. Matt was the former psychological director at the 182nd Airlift Wing and is well-qualified to lead this new and innovative effort. 

Task Force Restore Trust was intended to give the integrated prevention workforce a head-start in its work to begin to address these corrosives within our ranks. This training was developed using existing research and empirical data and was led by Brig. Gen. Justin Osberg, our Deputy Adjutant General – Army and a successful corporate change agent in his civilian life. The Soldiers involved in the task force were invested and often had intimate knowledge of the problems we are trying to address. These Soldiers also brought a passion to help the ILNG and address issues in a new way while giving of themselves.

We set up this training using a data-driven approach and are assessing it also using an empirical approach. The best short-term assessment we could use are surveys taken before the training and surveys taken after the training. Long-term, the best information we can use will be whether these harmful behaviors decrease or increase within our ranks, but we can’t wait to begin assessing our efforts.

The results we have seen between pre- and post-training surveys are encouraging, but uneven in places. This is to be expected. Rarely when you try something genuinely new will it be overwhelmingly successful. It needs to be evaluated and tweaked. Parts will need to be cut and thrown away and other parts enhanced as we transition to the full-time prevention team. Overall, Soldiers and leaders found the Task Force Restore Trust pilot program training to be more effective than the current Illinois Army National Guard training. The pilot also received overwhelming positive feedback from the battalion and brigade commanders whose units participated. The survey results indicated that the training could be used to improve trust, confidence, and comfort within their units. All units showed an increase in trust following the second pilot training, but after the first pilot training two of the 12 units reported a decrease in trust. A significant finding from the initial training events was the increase in confidence in the leadership and the unit when leadership was actively involved in the training.

We are still analyzing the data, but every other sub-area of each of the harmful behaviors saw positive results except confidence that fellow Soldiers would address sexual assault/sexual harassment if it were occurring. As the commander of the Illinois National Guard and as a father, I want to know what we can do to increase the number of Illinois National Guard service members who will intervene should they see a sexual assault developing or sexual harassment occurring. This speaks to the character of the individual as well as the culture of the organization.

It takes courage to intervene. It takes courage and integrity to live up to the Army and Air Force Values. We as leaders need to do all we can to instill that courage and confidence in ourselves and our fellow service members. Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult. Sometimes the right thing is clouded by a haze of loyalty to others rather than to the organization. I challenge you to do the right thing no matter how difficult. 

We will do what we can to improve the training and to improve the culture to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, discrimination and prejudice, suicide and counterproductive leadership within our ranks. However, ultimately it is going to take courageous individuals taking action at pivotal times.

Take action against harmful behaviors.