NEWS | April 19, 2021

Michigan Air National Guard invests in Airmen; families through communication training

By Master Sgt. David Eichaker Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

The Michigan Air National Guard (MIANG) and the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities (CFCC) partnership has bolstered an innovative pilot program called “In the Chocks” that invests in Airmen by providing tangible skills to enhance communication, which can lead to better relationships—both personally and professionally.

“In the Chocks” combined CFCC’s Our Community Listens (OCL) three-day course with content that is important during a deployment for military members before, during, and after the deployment. This unique partnership with CFCC was the first application of OCL to pre-deployment preparation, serving as a template for other military bases to model.

Developing “In the Chocks” with the MIANG and CFCC was going smoothly until COVID impacted in-person training, driving “In the Chocks” to figure out a way to deliver content and connection virtually to prepare participants and their families before the start of their deployments. The program used a combination of webinars, podcasts, handouts, digital classrooms, reflective communication prompts, and videos contributed by participants to provide a space for practicing and applying the communications skills in the deployed environment and at home.

“The interaction and ability to discuss different ideas, challenges, and solutions to problems with members who were experiencing the same situations was beneficial,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dana Parmenter, with the 217th Air Component Operations Squadron, 110th Wing, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. “This was my 11th deployment so it wasn’t overwhelming but sharing with others brought up some new things my family had never thought about.”

Spouses also found the program beneficial as the Michigan National Guard continues its commitment to Guard members and the well-being of National Guard families. This sets conditions for improved quality of life for Guard members and their families.

"In the Chocks, which included military members and their spouses, taught a common vernacular, which was most useful and beneficial,” said Jose Tovar, civilian spouse to a member of the 217th Air Operations Group. “Having a shared sense of understanding for these concepts and terms has provided speed and clarity to problem solving in sometimes contrasting environments of the workplace and home.”

The network of deployers abroad and spouses at home sharing experiences with the tools provided during “In the Chocks” brought huge dividends, as Parmenter explains the impact to him while leaving his family.

“This being my first deployment having a child at home, the program helped me communicate better with him,” he said. “Prior to the discussions with other members who had families, I was trying to figure out the best way to have a meaningful conversation in the short amount of time we had to talk.”

Merging the Communication Skills Training course with committed relationships is critical in preparing for, thriving through, and reintegrating from deployments.

“The deployment program focusing the content on the challenge that Airmen and families experience is seen as a huge benefit, which positively impact readiness,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, assistant adjutant general-Air, Michigan Air National Guard.

Readiness also includes extending to the MING Family for Life concept as serving can have a direct impact with service members and their families.

“Committing to strengthening and improving communication with my service member spouse prepared us for tackling the instability of a recent deployment,” said Tovar. “What is normally a long period of absence and uncertainty became an opportunity for family growth.”

Others agree with the Family for Life concept.

“This course provided me a way to effectively communicate with my family while I was in a deployed setting which lowered my stress level while I was in a combat area of operations. This allowed me to focus on my responsibilities as a U.S. Air Force officer,” said Parmenter.

The MIANG started its partnership with the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities started in 2018 and the Michigan National Guard has benefited from the Our Community Listens communications training.

“Hosting OCL here can only benefit our Airmen and further develop them,” said Teff.

The general himself attended the OCL course a few years ago which had a strong impact on his relationships and his leadership behaviors, both at home and at work. He wants to give Airmen stronger communication tools while tying that into the Michigan Air National Guard’s mission.

“The OCL course harmonizes with the DISC Behavioral Tendencies content already in our professional military education courses through practical applications of critical skills,” said Teff. “The Michigan Air National Guard cares about building trust, and this is a concrete step towards providing a common language and universal framework for building that trust in our culture.”

As the Michigan National Guard invests in its members and their families, some key takeaways were noted during the three-day course in helping develop different methods to finding common solutions, both from members and spouses that attended.

“One of the key takeaways that resonated with me after the course was the concept that you cannot change another individual; you can only create an environment where he or she will be motivated to change themselves,” said Tovar. “Since the course, I've reflected on moments of frustration and discouragement that have arisen from attempting to change another individual.”

“I've thought how those times and outcomes might have been different by focusing energy and effort on shaping an environment that might have promoted motivation for personal change,” he said.

This training also aligns with the Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs strategy.

“I saw a strong connection between communication skills taught in the three-day course and the goals in the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ strategic plan along with the strategic imperatives in the Michigan Air National Guard’s campaign plan,” said Teff. “Better communication at home and at work leads to improved readiness at the individual and unit level vital to execution of the Michigan National Guard missions.”

This course is a step towards providing a common language and universal framework for building stronger relationships.

“While there isn’t one specific answer to problems, there is a common ground,” said Parmenter. “Depending on your situation, (methods available to communicate, time to communicate, family makeup, stress, etc.) the way you communicate when you have time or the ability to will make all the difference.”

“If you know how best to craft a message and know how the person you are communicating with needs to receive the message, you will be more efficient and lower the potential for increased stress in a relationship,” he said.

The course itself comes highly recommended for other Airmen to attend.

“I would recommend others to take this course and in fact, it should be mandatory,” said Parmenter. “The military spends large amounts of money and time training service members how to accomplish their job but often the members are left to figure out how to live while separated by distance, time, etc.”

As a military spouse, Tovar also agrees this course is beneficial for building better relationships.

“In the military, communication between a service member and family can be challenging under the best of circumstances and times of stability,” he said. “Committing to working on relationship communication early and often helps to make the time and challenges of instability (ex: a deployment) that much more manageable for the service member and the family at home.”

“Deployments impose significant stress on individuals already in a potential high stress situation and by providing members with ways to effectively communicate via long distance, we can limit that stress and produce a higher functioning individual in a deployed setting,” he said.

The MIANG is scheduled to host four of the three-day Our Community Listens classes each year with additional virtual sessions available. The next three-day class is a Committed Relationship version and is scheduled be held 21-23 May in Battle Creek. Those interested in this or in future classes can contact Maj Jennifer Rudolph at Jennifer.Rudolph.2@us.af.mil.