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NEWS | Oct. 19, 2022

Illinois Army National Guard Puts Harmful Behaviors in Crosshairs

The Illinois Army National Guard supports the Secretary of the Army’s objective of maintaining positive command climates and reducing harmful behaviors within the organization. In February of 2022, Task Force Restore Trust was formed to tackle four predominant negative behaviors that can affect the morale and cohesion of Soldiers: counterproductive leadership, discrimination, suicide, and sexual harassment/assault (also referred to as the 3+1). The program aims to mitigate these behaviors by developing effective training that gives leaders the tools to implement positive and proactive solutions. The end goal is to set a foundation for organizational trust, safety, and respect while shifting from reactive to proactive responses to harmful behaviors.

The effectiveness of Task Force Restore Trust will be measured in a pilot stage from August to November of 2022 within various units in Illinois. The pilot consists of four classes specifically tailored to each harmful behavior, and each training includes a survey to collect data before and after the instruction.

“As of right now, the data collected shows what the Task Force is doing is working. We continue to collect data on the effectiveness of our training, and the data is promising,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Defenbaugh, Task Force Restore Trust’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Team Lead.

Brig. Gen. Justin Osberg, the Executive Sponsor of Task Force Restore Trust, has served as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General of the Illinois Army National Guard since 2021 and has more than 29 years of service.

The Illinois Army National Guard maintains a force of roughly 13,000 Soldiers who balance service to their country and involvement in their communities. Osberg ideated Task Force Restore Trust to address negative behaviors in the Illinois Army National Guard’s culture proactively, and maintain a foundation of trust in the organization.

“We believe that if you have trust in the organization, trust in the leaders, trust in your peers and your subordinates- you can mitigate all of those harmful behaviors,” Osberg said.

Task Force Restore Trust intentionally veers from the military’s typical “death by PowerPoint” teaching style and instead encourages Soldiers to truly think about the topic at hand during guided large and small group discussions and scenario-based activities.

“Much of what we are doing is focused on engaging activities, with very little classroom instruction, and the training, led by passionate facilitators, is meaningful, real, and impactful,” said Defenbaugh. “Many [Soldiers] say this is the best training they’ve received since joining the military.”

Sergeant Christina Spence is a member of the Task Force and echoes Defenbaugh regarding the impact of the program’s activity-based training.

“The Sexual Assault/Harassment working group has an activity where the audience is given four colored cards,” said Spence. “A scenario is read to the audience in which there are intentional pauses, and everyone raises the card they think best matches the situation. This is a great eye-opener because people realize they are not all on the same page about what is considered crossing the line.”

Many of the Task Force Restore Trust members have volunteered their time to the program as they have experience with these negative behaviors themselves. In Staff Sgt. Keith Albaugh’s more than two decades in the Army, he has lost 37 friends to war and 43 to suicide.

“Our training has been impactful in each unit. You can see it in the faces of the Soldiers and leaders, you can feel it in the room, and you can hear it in discussions after the training has concluded,” said Albaugh. “Our open dialogue approach allows Soldiers to share their personal stories, to talk openly about their feelings, and to, maybe for the first time, realize that it is okay to not be okay.”

Many members of the Task Force and Illinois Army National Guard are excited to see the lasting change this program can make to their unit culture, especially Specialist Elora Brandon, who serves on the Discrimination Working Group.

“I feel privileged to be a part of a huge movement towards a healthier force. In the future, I hope the Task Force highlights and provides a solid base for what the Illinois National Guard needs to accomplish to ensure all Soldiers feel heard and understood, regardless of their rank,” Brandon said.

Ultimately, Osberg intends for the program to provide enduring training solutions to unit-level leadership that can fit their needs.

“We want to build a toolbox that is available to company command teams that allows them to employ training to mitigate harmful behaviors in their units based on their unit’s needs, and address harmful behaviors specifically seen in their units,” Osberg said.

In March of 2023, Task Force Restore Trust is set to disband and leave behind a framework of long-term solutions and training for leaders to mitigate behavioral risk in Illinois Army National Guard units.