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Israeli first responders and service members have responded to hundreds of attacks against Israel’s citizens over many years. On Monday, Dec. 5, Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency) reported 196 attacks in November, 401 in October, 254 in September and 209 in August.
The Israelis have gained a lot of experience dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and have worked on ways to become more resilient in their efforts to cope with that stress and trauma. Now the Illinois National Guard is benefitting from the Israel’s experience in building resilience.
Instructors from NATAL, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, brought resiliency training to the Illinois National Guard as a U.S. pilot course called Operational Stress Management and Resiliency Care for First Responders. The course ran from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 at Camp Lincoln, Springfield, followed by another week of teleconference training. The Illinois National Guard received a grant as part of a Congressional add that funds the Warrior Resilience and Fitness Innovation Incubator Program. Illinois’ proposal was one of nine programs in the nation selected to receive grant funds as a pilot program.
Illinois is one of three states whose National Guard has a formal training relationship with Israel. The Israeli Consulate in Chicago contacted the Illinois National Guard about two years ago, explaining the course and asked if the Illinois National Guard would be interested.
“This is a very unique opportunity we have,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “This is an opportunity for us to really look at resiliency training for first responders. Israel has a good track record, especially during COVID, of this type of training.”
Neely told the 36 attendees, representing both Army and Air Guard units and Wings, when he first enlisted in the Army National Guard, the coping process was ‘suck it up.’ He said that mindset must change.
“As leaders, we must understand the complexity of the situation,” Neely said. “The holidays are a time that resonates for all of us. Chaplains remind us you may be having a great time, but there are others in the formation who may be hurting. Each of us must be aware of not only ourselves, but those around us, not just someone junior to you, but your boss and your peers as well.”
The Soldiers and Airmen attending the course primarily serve in units which center around first response operations such as the 5th Civil Support Team, the Counterdrug Program, and the Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP). However, both the Army and Air National Guard also sent chaplains, members of the new Integrated Prevention Team and other individuals outside of domestic operations units.
Based on the train the trainer concept, each Soldier and Airmen attending is asked to take what they learn during the course back to their units and share it across the Illinois National Guard.
“When I first looked at the program, I was impressed with the success it was showing in Israel,” said Illinois Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Mark Alessia, of Sherman, the Director the Illinois National Guard Joint Staff. “As we went through 2020 and 2021, the Guard spent 400,000-man days in domestic operations support. If you watch the serious incident reports, as we conducted numerous domestic missions, we saw an increase in serious incident reports, and we were able to tie those increases to resiliency and mental health challenges.”
Neely told the Soldiers and Airmen that as service members, they learn to deal with stress throughout their careers.
“We’re kind of built for that because of how we start out dealing with stress in basic training and how we manage our way through some of that as time progresses,” he said. “But others get thrown into the stressful situation and they’re not ready for it. Make sure we look for the signs and look out for those around us.”
Itai Biran, the Consul for Political and Commercial Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest in Chicago, thanked the Soldiers and Airman for attending the course.
“The Illinois National Guard and Israel have been exchanging best practices for years. This course is taking it to the next step,” he said. “This is not an exchange in physical safety or security measures, but something equally important – mental health.”
Biran said because of the ongoing security issues in Israel, Israelis are very experienced with PTSD.
“Service in the Army is mandatory. Most everyone knows someone who is directly or indirectly victims of terror attacks,” he said. “In Israeli society, we have seen the challenge to recognize and name PTSD, to do something about it, and follow through. NATAL has had a big role in destigmatizing PTSD in Israel.”
Biran said Israel is here to offer its partnership in any way, shape or form.
“Just as we have learned so much from our greatest ally, we are grateful to be able to turn our experience into tools for you,” he said. “This is why we were happy to connect NATAL with the Illinois National Guard a little over two years ago. Today, we are happy to see that partnership come to fruition.”
Neely said he is excited for members of the Illinois National Guard to receive this training.
“It looks like it will be helpful for the organization,” he said.
Biran said he is excited for the opportunity to work together and looks forward to more opportunities in the future.
“This is what friends do, we take care of each other,” he said.
Hila Shvoron, deputy chief executive officer and director of resiliency and community at NATAL, shared a brief history of NATAL. It started 25 years ago as a way to help Israelis, both veterans and civilians, deal with PTSD and minimize the impact.
“Through this course, we hope to teach as many as we can from what we have learned in the past 25 years,” she said.
Shvoron said the operational stress management course is built to encourage organizational change, through the normalization of mental health talk and the use of stress management in the daily lives of first responders.
During week one, participants were involved in both classroom and hands-on practical exercises. Week two was held via teleconferencing and was focused on training
“Training is tailored to meet the needs of first responders and focuses on providing participants with practical tools on operational stress management,” Shvoron said.
Alessia said each attendee will be asked to fill out a survey which will be used in a report to National Guard Bureau about the possibility of incorporating some of the training into established Army and Air Force resiliency training.