Is it nag’em or naugam??  Nope, its NGAM (National Guard Association of Michigan) and Jeff Frisby is the Executive Director.  Listen as he discusses how this organization helps Veterans and their plans for the future.

Bill Krieger:  Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Me You Us” a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy, and I’m your host, Bill Krieger.

Today, my guest is Jeff Frisby. He is the executive director of the National Guard Association of Michigan. Jeff, if you’ll introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.

Jeff Frisby:  Jeff Frisby, I am a former Arkansas guardsman. I made my way to Michigan for this job. While I was in the Arkansas National Guard, I was a part of the full?time force which we call the AGR program, Active Guard Reserve.

As a member of the full?time force there, I did all the behind?the?scene stuff. The guys that you work Monday through Friday, who keep the lights on, make sure there’s food on the weekends, training plans, and so forth.

My time in the AGR program, I was allowed to be a volunteer for the State Association in Arkansas. I was able to eventually work my way up. I did pretty much every position in the organization. Became the State President. Did that job for several years. Then I went on to work at the national level for the National Association for the enlisted members.

When I left the military, when I left the army, my thought was, “This is my passion. This is what I love to do. This is the job I’m going to find.” It took me about three or four years to get into a position that allowed me to do advocacy for the military. It took me a while to find it. Michigan gave me the opportunity to come here and be their executive director.

Bill:  All right. I’m glad you explained some of that to me. For the audience, you may have noticed that Jeff does not have the typical Midwestern drawl. It’s more Southern. That explains a lot. Then also, as a member of the Michigan National Guard for a number of years, we appreciated our AGR force.

As you said, they did keep the lights on and make sure everything was ready to go. Then we came in on the weekends for our annual training. There weren’t a whole lot of bumps on the road. Kudos to that whole group of people who do the heavy lifting. Sometimes that can be a thankless job.

Three years. What did you do between the time you left the army until you got here?

Jeff:  Via my network of professional organizations, I had a friend of mine who was in New Orleans, Louisiana. He called me. He said, “Hey, I’ve got this company down here. They’re looking for veterans to hire. They want leadership positions. Are you interested?” At the time, I was in a job search. I was absolutely interested.

I called the company. I said, “Hey, this is my background. This is my experience. If you’ve got a type of leadership position that’s open, I would be interested in hearing more about the job.” They flew me to New Orleans the next week, hired me pretty much on the spot. I went into manufacturing into one of the world’s largest plastic injection molding conveyor belt companies.

I was a shift manager for that company there in New Orleans. I did that for three years, the entire time, in the search to get me back into the military community, back into the family that I had spent most of my adult life with. I was happy to find the opportunity. I was very thankful for that transitional job as well. Great company. They did great things for me there.

Bill:  That’s good to know. For people who listen, who aren’t or have not been members, employees, aren’t veterans, sometimes don’t understand that feeling you get when you leave the military. I spent 10 years on active duty in the Navy. I came to Consumers Energy.

About five years later, I’m like, “I love this company. I love what we do. It’s very similar to the military in how it’s structured. The work we do, we hire a lot of veterans.” It just wasn’t the same. That’s why I ended up joining the Michigan National Guard and finishing out my time. I retired from that and still missed soldiers.

There’s something about being around soldiers that’s good for your soul. They understand your humor. They understand what you’re talking about when you talk. It’s that whole community that maybe some people don’t understand. You did that for three years. Then this opportunity came along. I know the competition was pretty tight as well. What was that process like for you?

Jeff:  I was the outsider. I was the guy that they had never heard of. I was the one that wasn’t on their radar. Again, my network of professional organizations, a friend of mine called. He said, “Hey, did you know that Michigan’s fix to advertise this job?”

I can tell you that there was no one in Michigan who had ever heard of Jeff Frisby at that point. I flew to Michigan for the interview, came to do the interview in person.

The organization at the time, they were at a point where they were looking for someone who had not only the background, maybe even the connections because I had a lot of connections still in Washington DC, in state and federal politics. They were looking for someone that maybe had a different perspective, an outsider perspective.

They wanted someone who could come in and maybe revitalize the organization a little bit, but give it some life that it has not had before. I think that’s what I was able to bring to the organization.

Bill:  I would defy anyone in the National Guard community now ?? it’s been a few short years ?? to not know who Jeff Frisby is. When I go out and do my job, your name is out there. It’s very positive. Definitely doing what you set out to do.

Clearly, we aren’t 100 percent there yet. There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to talk about on the show. Let’s talk a little bit about the National Guard Association. This is my experience with the National Guard Association.

I come into the Michigan National Guard. I go to my first or second drill weekend. I’m from the Navy. I don’t even know how to wear a uniform yet. This crusty old first sergeant ?? I won’t say his name. It’s the same name as a drink that involves whiskey. I’ll just say that ?? comes over and goes, “You need to join NGAM. It’s this much money.”

I’m like, “OK, first of all, I’m not going to tell this guy no, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to kick my butt if I tell him no.” I do it. Jokingly, during my tenure in the National Guard, we called it NGAM on purpose, because we would nag you until you paid your dues and you joined. No one ever really knew what they were signing up for. What does the National Guard Association do?

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s in it for the soldier.

Jeff:  Great question. When I came to the position and I did that interview. I tell you that they were looking for an outsider’s perspective and a little bit of a different thought process to how this organization should go. NGAM itself, or NGOM…

Bill:  Let’s stop there for a second. I hear it referred to as NGOM now and not NGAM anymore. I think that’s intentional.

Jeff:  Sure. [laughs] I don’t know if it’s intentional, but it’s the southern drawl in me brings that out probably that makes a difference. The association is the professional organization for the soldiers and the airmen that serve in the Michigan National Guard.

It is a heartfelt belief of mine that those individuals, even though they may not be carrying a briefcase and they don’t wear a tie to work every day, they are professionals. There is a phrase in the army that 95 percent of us live by, no one is more professional than I.

We are the epitome of professionalism and one of the oldest career fields in this country. We, as the professional organization, represent them as professional soldiers and airmen, and as the families.

What that means is if you think about a dentist who might be trying to sell a toothbrush, 9 out of 10 dentists will prefer an Oral B toothbrush because they’re a member of the Dental Association. That Dental Association chose that toothbrush as the best toothbrush.

I hope as an organization, what we can be is the best professional organization to represent the soldiers and the airmen.

When it comes to either state legislature, federal politics, if it comes to the National Guard Bureau, which is in DC, any of those people who have direct influence over policy, over legislation over finances, or anything that impacts the life and the well?being of the Michigan National Guard, that is our focus. That is what we do.

Bill:  I started out as an enlisted soldier and ended up getting my commission. A junior enlisted soldier, I didn’t understand what does it mean to go and talk to the legislature, and talk to those governing bodies.

What are some of the things that the association has done for that soldier who’s maybe at that lower enlisted level and doesn’t understand all that? What are some of the things that matter to them that you’re doing?

Jeff:  There is this incredible non?parity, the division of thought processes when it comes to the active component military and the National Guard. Most people don’t even see that. I would even challenge you to say that most guardsmen do not recognize the difference between the two.

One of the most prominent examples for me, and things that I’ve worked on personally that changed the game for the National Guard, is the Post?9/11 GI Bill. The general population thinks that when you get into the military, you get this benefit of education. You get to go to school. The government’s going to pay so much money towards your education.

After the invasions in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in those wars and what happened there, the government realized that they probably weren’t giving enough money to education benefits to get you through a bachelor’s degree, sometimes through a master’s degree, and some who are very, very smart in how they use their money, even to a doctorate degree.

They came up with this concept of changing the education benefits program. They called it the Post?9/11 GI Bill. When that bill was originally written, the National Guard was not eligible for that benefit. The reason they weren’t eligible is because the requirement to qualify for that benefit is you have so much time dedicated to federal active duty serving your country.

In most cases, the National Guard would not cross that threshold of federal active duty. Now, coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, what you found is that a majority of the National Guard were deploying at high rates. Some cases, they’re pulling higher than the active component was. Serving overseas and building up all this federal active duty time.

Then they come home and they find out that there’s this education benefit that they’re no longer eligible for. Associations like us, we would be able to go to Congress and say, “Hey, this is not fair. These men and women have earned the right to get this benefit to be able to go to college for the same service that the active component has done. You should make that apply.”

We were able to make changes. We’re still making changes to this day to that bill. Originally, they didn’t qualify. We went back, petitioned Congress, and said, “Hey, this is not fair. You need to open it up for the National Guard.”

They created a stipulation that said if you’ve served overseas for so much time, then you’re eligible for the Post?9/11 GI Bill, you can get the same education benefit. Slowly, we’ve chipped away at that, where now, your basic training time counts toward your eligibility for that education benefit.

Right now, we’re working on making your drill status whenever you come in, one weekend, a month, making you eligible for that. The Post?9/11 GI Bill is one of the most influential efforts that we’ve had. The same thing with health care benefits.

There is this health care package that military members get called TRICARE. TRICARE, generally speaking, is a wonderful package that basically takes care of your health readiness. If you’re in the National Guard, 10 years ago, there was no such thing to help you with your health care.

You were expected to have your own private insurance. Go to your own private doctor. Take care of all of your health needs. Then come to drill. You got to be medically ready, medically qualified to go overseas if the nation ever called you to do so.

We created this program called TRICARE Reserve Select. The active component would never have cared at all if the National Guard had health care or health care benefits. If it wasn’t for organizations like the National Guard Association in Michigan, that type of health care would never have existed.

Right now, we’re currently trying to work with Congress to not only make the TRICARE program that exists for the National Guard expanded, we’re asking Congress to make it free for all of the National Guard.

A National Guardsmen who only drills two days a month, two weeks in the summer, whatever that cycle is for their typical duty, they still have the same requirements to maintain health readiness.

The health standards that make you deployable, that make you eligible to put on the uniform Monday through Friday, they have the same requirements as the active component, but they’re currently not provided the same health care to meet that standard. We’re actually petitioning Congress now to make that happen.

Bill:  Those are all a very big deal. When you talk about the Post?9/11 GI Bill, in my job, and here’s something a lot of people don’t know, is if you are in a registered apprenticeship, you can collect GI Bill dollars.

The apprentices that I work with here at Consumers Energy who are veterans and who do qualify collect Post?9/11 GI Bill benefits in addition to the great pay and benefits that they get from Consumers Energy. I think right now, we have about 45 of our apprentices who are using that program.

I know that I have a master’s degree that I didn’t pay for. That was paid for by the US government through all of those benefits that I think sometimes we just take for granted. Like you said, I’m in the military. My education is going to be paid for. That’s not necessarily so or at least it wasn’t necessarily so back in the day.

When you talk about that division between active duty and guard, I was fat, dumb, and happy, not realizing that there was a division there until I deployed. I deployed in ’06, ’07. I’m in northern Iraq in Mosul. We fell under active duty components.

I remember the battalion commander at one point saying, “We would never have known you guys were National Guard units.” I know that many, many National Guard units get that same compliment from their active duty partners. It’s a backhanded compliment.

Jeff:  It is.

Bill:  When we talk about professionalism, our guard soldiers not only have to have all that same training that our active duty component gets, but we’re out doing regular jobs during the rest of the year. The two weekends or one weekend a month, two weeks in the year is not a lot of time to get all of that. We have to play catch up.

It’s good to know that the work that’s being done puts us right on par with our active duty component. Wouldn’t it be great if we just didn’t even look at it that way?

Jeff:  I think that 9/11 was the line that was drawn just to separate…that changed the National Guard. That’s what it was. It changed the National Guard. I might get in trouble for saying this. I think that prior to 9/11, the National Guard sometimes, in some situations, earned the title nasty guard or weekend warriors.

There would be units all across the nation, who on the weekend, would probably not accomplish a whole lot, except for draw a paycheck, maybe have some good social time after the drill was over with, and that would be about it.

Whenever 9/11 happened, and as a nation, when we started relying on the National Guard for so many different missions, not only in Homeland Defense but also, overseas in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We have a full?time mission that we currently do in Sinai, Egypt. All around the world. Those types of missions.

Whenever we started relying on the National Guard to do all these missions, it became very apparent that we were required to maintain the same training at all times, which not only includes our skill sets, but the equipment that we use.

We needed to be able to use the same field artillery equipment. We needed to be able to fall in on the same helicopters. We needed to be able to use the same Humvees, the same rifles. Prior to 9/11, the stigma was, for the National Guard is that we had all the hand?me?downs from the Vietnam era, the Korean War era. We would use that type of equipment to train.

Then in any instance that the federal government called upon us to be mobilized, we would use this brand new equipment to us that we would just fall in on, use for that temporary time, and then come home back to that post?Vietnam era equipment.

When 9/11 happened and we had so much need for the National Guard to be strong, to be relevant, these training standards changed, this training equipment changed, and we became a ready reserve force for this nation.

Bill:  You put it so eloquently, and I remember coming into the Guard in 1999. I joined the National Guard on Valentine’s Day in 1999, which might explain a few things.

I remember going to my first summer camp and we did a little bit of training, and that kind of thing. I remember that units would set aside several days for just partying.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, after 9/11, that all changed. There were some people that were upset, like, “What do you mean, we’re not going to go tubing down the river? We are done with training.” They did step it up. If you go to Camp Grayling today, it is completely different. They have an amazing mount site.

They do all kinds of wonderful Urban Training, not only for military folks, but also for our police departments and our fire department. They do all kinds of great work up there as a result of what happened coming out of 9/11. You’re absolutely right. The training changed, as did the attitude and to some extent, the quality of the people coming into the National Guard.

Jeff:  And the perspective that the active component had for the National Guard.

Bill:  Yes.

Jeff:  I deployed in the very end of OIF 1. We get to Iraq. We are assigned to the 1st Cav Division at Alvord, Texas. There was not a high expectation for us to be great performers, quality soldiers. They were like, “Ah, here’s this National Guard unit that we got assigned to us.”

We were top?notch. The training that we received prior to that mobilization, the attitudes, the perception that our soldiers had going into that mobilization, we left that deployment with a completely different perspective from the 1st Cav Division about what the National Guard is capable of, and what we can do.

Today, I would tell you that the National Guard in all 54 of the states and territories that have National Guard units, probably some of the best warriors and defenders of this nation, even compared to the active component.

Because when you think about that challenge of being able to meet those same training standards in a two?day period versus a 30?day period, and you’re able to not only accomplish it, but you’re able to do it extremely well with great attitudes, we have some of the best experience and the best knowledge, insight. We have the best force in this nation.

Bill:  I would agree. Even going all the way back to the Cold War, one of the reasons that Russia never attacked us, and they even said it, was because we don’t follow our own rule book. We have all these plans in place, but we know that when you get out into the field that those plans all change, and you have to be able to adjust when that happens.

What I found in the National Guard especially is all of those things that I do in my civilian life, we have policemen, we have firemen, we have people who scoop ice cream and flip burgers, they all bring stuff to the table that you just don’t get from a standard military force. That’s what helps make us successful.

I know we used to drive our active duty battalion commander a little bit crazy because he would even say it. He was like, “I don’t know how you guys do it. You don’t follow any of the rules, but you get it done. You get it done right, and you get it done safely and efficiently.”

We basically told him, “It’s because we have this whole other set of rules that we follow when we’re at home because of our civilian life.”

Jeff:  I love this. I love this conversation. I’ve actually testified before a couple of congressional committees before about this. Here’s this National Guard brigade that goes to Iraq in 2003, 2004. They get there. I have battalion commanders, who are also high school superintendents. What we’re asking the US forces to do in Iraq is to help build schools.

There was no one in the 1st Cav Division who knew how to build a school better than that battalion commander, who was a high school superintendent. Then I get over there, and I’m asked to help train the Iraqi police and get them ready to defend their own country. Well, there was nobody in the 1st Cav Division who had run a police force.

I had an S3, who was a chief of police in Little Rock, Arkansas. We had the experience. We had the background because not only did we come as soldiers, but we also came as school teachers and doctors.

We came as nurses. We came as high school superintendents. We were able to make multiple impacts in the lives of that nation in the people there that were there looking for new structure in that nation in a way that maybe the active component couldn’t provide at that time.

Bill:  If we talk about what we’re looking at in today’s society, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion, when you deploy to a country like Iraq, you start to understand what that means. That diversity of thought, and all of those different people bringing all those different things to the table, are what makes you successful because then you don’t have blinders on.

You have the ability to be more accepting of other cultures. I realized that when I got to Iraq. I had one idea of what the Iraqis were when I got on the plane to go there. I had a whole completely different idea when I got back. The idea I had coming back was much better than going in. I learned all of that through that, but I was able to.

The flip side of that is, why hire a veteran, or why hire somebody in the guard because they’re going to be gone sometimes? Because that stuff they learn in combat, that stuff they learn when they go down, like we went to Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina. The stuff I learned there, I brought back to the company that I work for. That’s all very valuable as well. It’s really a two?way street.

Jeff:  Absolutely. It’s the leadership. It’s the insight. It’s the perspective. You talked about diversity and equity and inclusion. You talk about those things. The demographic of who the military is, is incredibly diverse. You depend on each other. You need each other. You survive because you have your brothers and your sisters to your left and your right.

There is no line that says, “No, I can’t work with you today. I can’t do this.” That perspective is almost like an inborn value to respect and appreciate everyone that’s there with you.

Bill:  Here’s the thing that I brought back from the military, both on my active duty time and my National Guard time, is that I might not even like that person next to me. I’ll tell you when you’re in the middle of doing whatever it is you’re doing, you love that person next to you.

You may not go have a beer with them when you get back or any of that. That time that you spent watching each other’s backs meant something.

Jeff:  We’re probably going to jump forward a little bit in the conversation. I’m working on the suicide prevention stuff. I think about some of the efforts that I have going on right now.

When I talk to people about how the DOD ?? the Department of Defense ?? how they’re addressing suicide prevention, what I would tell you, it’s almost an epidemic in the homeland here in the United States for Veteran Suicide. When we talk about that, what we miss is this community, this family that we had when we were in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anytime we were wearing this uniform.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a lady about these efforts, and how, even if you were the guy that got picked on, you were the lowest ranking guy, and they made you mop the floor all the time, and you always had to take out the trash, there is nothing that your brothers and sisters would not have done to protect you and save your life if you were in a combat situation. They loved you.

When you came home, it was that relationship that a lot of veterans miss, that they don’t have. That structure is not there anymore when they take the uniform off, and they go back into society, and they try to figure out what’s next for them.

That sense of community, that family that you had in the military, that’s part of the equation of what’s missing when we talk about veterans’ suicide and why so many veterans are using suicide as an answer to their problems because they don’t have that network anymore.

Bill:  I couldn’t agree more. It’s almost a double whammy when you’re in the National Guard because I share this story a lot. I stepped off the battlefield on October 13th, 2007. Two weeks later, I’m driving from Holt, Michigan, to Lansing, Michigan, to my office.

I get to my office. I get out of my car. It’s a beautiful fall day. Fall in Michigan is amazing. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping. I get out of my car, and I’m thinking, “This is going to be a great day.” You know why it was going to be a great day, Jeff? Not because the sun was shining and not because the birds were chirping, none of that.

It was going to be a great day because no one shot at me and nothing blew up. The next thought in my head was, “Holy crap. I’m crazy.” Because nobody thinks this way. Guess what? The whole community that I came from thought that way, but I didn’t have anybody to talk to about that. It is very difficult.

Let’s dig into that. You have some exciting stuff to talk about when it comes to service dogs as an example, and how that has been very helpful in preventing suicide. In fact, I don’t know if you want me to say this or not. I think when we talk about this?that, that we have a 100 percent batting average when it comes to service dogs.

Let’s talk about what that means. We’re getting way ahead of the audience here. Let’s back up a little bit. Let’s talk about the National Guard Association, their 2024 Conference, which is going to be held in the great state of Michigan in the amazing city of Detroit. What are some of the plans that you have for that? Let’s specifically talk about this.

Jeff:  It’s pretty clear by my Southern accent that I’m an outsider. I come to Michigan really not knowing what to expect when I hit Detroit. The preconceived notion would be probably what a lot of people across the country feel, is that you got to show up with a bulletproof vest. You’re going to be dodging bullets. It’s going to be just a rough town.

I could not have been more wrong. Detroit is an amazing city. Absolutely amazing city. I fell in love with Detroit the very first time I was there. When I came into the position, I inherited one of these two national conferences that we’ll fix and talk about. Since then, I’ve gone out and got a second national conference.

In 2024, the National Guard Association of Michigan is going to do something that has never been done before.

We are going to bring 7,000 guardsmen together for a 10?straight?day period to talk about the direction of the National Guard, what we can do for our soldiers, what we can do for our airmen, and how we can unify as organizations to fight for the right legislative efforts that change the lives and the future of the National Guard.

We’re going to do that through two national organizations. One is called the EANGUS, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. The second is NGAUS, the National Guard Association of the United States.

That is the enlisted and officer associations that represent the professional advocacy for soldiers and airmen.

Bill:  I don’t want to interrupt you. There’s an important distinction to make here. I don’t think we’ve ever had those back to back like that in the same city, have we?

Jeff:  Never. They have never been back to back. They’ve never been in the same city. I don’t even know that they’ve ever been in the same state in the same year.

Bill:  There’s advantages to this.

Jeff:  Absolutely. We’re bringing them all to Detroit. Part of the reason that we’re bringing them to Detroit is because of that outsider mentality that I had when I moved to Michigan, that Detroit was not a pleasant town. We’re fixing to show them just how amazing, not only Detroit is, but how amazing Michigan is.

We’re going to give them a taste like they’ve never experienced before for both the city and the state. We’re going to show them a phenomenal time. We’re going to do that by taking them all over the city and showing them just some of the best venues, the best food, the best people that this state has to offer.

Bill:  I have to get a plug out there, because my wife, as you know, is 100 percent Greek. There’s probably going to be some stuff going on in Greektown, right?

Jeff:  We’ve got at least one event, maybe two events that will be fully in Greektown. Right now the plan is, is we’re actually going to shut Monroe Street down. We’re going to have contracts with all of the food establishments, all the bars that are down in Greektown.

We’re going to have 7,000 people walking from store to store, from business to business. They’re all going to be able to partake in the experience of Greektown.

Bill:  That’s excellent. I want to back up a little bit, though, where you said that we’re going to talk about things that matter to the National Guard in our direction and where we’re headed. Now, I went to my first NGAUS conference last year. It was in Vegas. I can tell you this. I had a great time. Don’t get me wrong, but it was not this big party.

There was a lot of very important things that went on there. A lot of meet and greet, but also, a lot of professional development.

Jeff:  Absolutely.

Bill:  A lot of discussion around what we’re doing legislatively. It was very, very informative. If you’re a member of the National Guard Association, I would urge you to go to one of these conferences. Coming up here shortly is the conference in Columbus, Ohio. For Michigan folks, that’s not really a long drive. You might want to think about attending.

I don’t want to drag us too far back, but I wanted to make sure that we talked about this. 2024 sounds pretty exciting.

Jeff:  Yeah. It’s going to be exciting. Let me catch a little bit of what you’re saying there. Yes, absolutely. Whenever I tell you we’re bringing in 7,000 people to Detroit, we’re bringing leadership from every state and territory to Detroit. We’re bringing the Department of Defense to Detroit.

In 2024, which is a presidential election year, very, very possible that we will have both presidential candidates in Detroit to speak to the National Guard. When you talk about professional development, we’re going to have leadership that most people would not have access to, to hear directly their thoughts of how they’re going to help promote the National Guard in the future.

We’re going to focus on things like what happens at Selfridge Air Force Base. There’s a possibility that we’re going to lose one of the aircraft that station there. If we lose that aircraft, what does that mean for Camp Grayling, Michigan, and the airspace that we have there?

We’re going to talk about those types of things. That doesn’t even have to be specific to Michigan. What happens to the aircraft that’s stationed in Indiana? What happens to the aircraft that’s stationed in New Orleans, Louisiana?

There are places right now that have four structure issues within their National Guards that they need answers to. That conference is going to bring the leadership together. It’s going to bring the thoughts together, innovation together. Corporate partners who have vested interest in the military being the best fighting force in the nation, it’s going to bring them together.

Like you said, it’s not just 10 days of partying. It’s actually a focused agenda of “How do we make the National Guard better for the future?”

So that the youngest people that are serving now, those junior officers, those junior enlisted members, whenever they become battalion commanders, brigade commanders, when they become the two?star general that’s in charge of their state, they can have still the best fighting force in the world.

Bill:  I’m excited. If I could buy my tickets today, I would. You know that I’ll be there and I’ll be participating. I do want to talk a little bit about soldier suicide and what you’re doing with service dogs. How that ties into 2024.

We’re in 2022 right now. People might think, “Well, that’s two years off.” As you and I both know, two years goes by in the blink of an eye. There’s a lot of stuff going on around that. What’s the news or the announcement around that?

Jeff:  This is the connection. In 2024, for those 10 straight days, I will have leadership from all 54 states and territories that have National Guard units. That’s including DC has a National Guard, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Then your 50 states.

We have that leadership here. What we want to do as an organization, the National Guard Association of Michigan, is we want to be able to say that not only are we bringing you to what is one of the best cities in the nation, for some of the best venues in the nation, for the largest military conference in the nation, but we want to be able to give back to you as a state.

We want you to leave Michigan with something positive, something better than we had before. When we started looking at “How do we do that? How do we accomplish that? How do we give that back to the 54 states and territories?”

The thought was we couldn’t escape this. Like I said, what I think is an epidemic for veterans’ suicide across the nation, and the National Guard is not exempt from that plague. Not only do we have some of the very similar stats when you look at suicide, I will tell you the National Guard’s probably competing for leading, unfortunately, in those categories.

We kind of throw around this number, 22 a day. In the National Guard, it’s a little bit higher. It’s probably in the neighborhood of 24 a day. There are 22 military veterans that are committing suicide every single day.

That being a problem, Detroit being an opportunity to bring everybody together, how do we give back to those people and also provide a solution to this problem? We started doing some research. What we found was that there are organizations out there, not just one, there are multiple organizations out there who are providing medically qualified and trained service dogs to veterans.

Their success rates are not 22 a day, not 21 a day, not 15 a day, not 10 a day, they have reduced suicide to an almost zero percent rate. Now, when I stat that number out there, I will tell you that the organization that I’m currently working with do have a zero percent suicide rate for veterans.

I get leery of throwing that number out because eventually, that catches up with me. If I’m losing 22 A day right now, 22 a day plus, I don’t know that I stay on the same path that I’m on right now. Even if I lose one after five years, it is so much better than 22 a day.

This organization that I’m working with right now, they’re providing these medically qualified service dogs to veterans who suffer from things like PTSD, anxiety issues, social integration issues. Sometimes, they’re looking at veterans who have hypertension. We’re looking at veterans who maybe suffer from some cerebral seizure effects and stuff like that.

Even if it’s depression, these medically qualified service dogs are able to detect the chemical imbalances in the brain to help that veteran know, “Something’s going on right now. We need to get you some attention. We need to get you fixed. We need to take care of you.” They can detect those types of things. In 2024, I have launched a campaign called 54 by 24, Service Dogs Save Lives.

The hope is that whenever I have 54 states and territories in Detroit, the leadership from all 54 states and territories there, I also have a veteran, a guardsman, a service member from all 54 states and territories there with a service dog telling a story, almost a testimony of how that service dog has saved their life and stopped veteran suicide.

I think we potentially have a solution that right now, the Department of Defense is not able to grasp. There’s currently a campaign going within the Department of Defense to award $10 million to someone who just has a good idea to help them stop this problem. We have one of those ideas that might potentially be a solution to the veteran suicide problem.

Bill:  I imagine what $10 million could do in the service dog realm. Now, that’s probably not a solution for everyone.

Jeff:  Correct.

Bill:  It certainly is a solution for a lot of people.

Jeff:  Absolutely. Because I’m on this service dog platform, you will often hear me say, it’s on my social media that, veterans, they’re owed better than an 800 number, and a counselor that they’ve never met. I say that a little bit tongue in cheek because it does work. It does work for some people.

There are people out there who can call the 800 number. They can get the counseling that they need. They can find the right connections. They can maybe backfill the sense of whatever it is that they’re missing through that 800 number, through what’s out there currently.

What I do believe is, I believe that these service dogs are providing that community that we talked about earlier. They’re providing that battle buddy for these veterans who are missing that network. They’re missing that family. They’re missing that someone who understands what they went through, understands what their problems are, and just needs somebody to talk to.

That service dog is able to fill that role for that veteran. That’s why it’s making such a difference. That’s why the 22 a day is becoming a zero percent problem.

Bill:  It is probably going to take time to make all that happen. If I’m interested in helping out with that, is there a website I can go to? Is there a phone number I can call? How can I help with that?

Jeff:  If you go to my website right now, www.N?G?A?M ?? National Guard Association of Michigan ?? .O?R?G, you will find a link directly to the 54 by 24 campaign. There’s some information there that talks about the program. It talks about what we’re doing, talks about the goal of 2024 being our targeted window to provide the service dogs.

There’s also an opportunity for people to sign up and directly support the initiative.

Bill:  All right. Just so the audience gets the site, it’s www. N?G?A?M.O?R?G, Then there is a direct link. I’ve been out there. I’ve clicked on the link. It works. Definitely check that out. Looking forward to seeing what happens in 2024. God willing, we’ll all still be here to enjoy it.

We are coming up on the close of the podcast. Before we go, Jeff, is there anything that you would like our audience to take away from this discussion that we’ve had today?

Jeff:  For the organization, for what we do, I want to make sure that everyone knows that we don’t necessarily only influence legislation and policy that impacts the National Guard. It would be very challenging for me, in fact, if I went to Congress and said, “I want you to create a GI Bill that’s only for the National Guard,” or if I created a health care benefit, or if it was a pay inclusion or anything.

There will never be a benefit that I’m going to fight for that doesn’t impact all veterans. As an organization, we actually have a grant that we have through the partnership with the State Lottery Commission here in Michigan, where we provide financial assistance to veterans all across the state.

You do not have to be a Guardsman to be eligible for that. You can apply for that if you have any type of financial need. There’s a solution that maybe we can provide an answer to.

The reason that I bring that up, why I say that as my, “This is what I want people to walk away with,” is because as an organization, you talk about being NGAM and how you were nagged a little bit to make sure you paid your dues, and you became a member, even though you may not have known what it was we did or what we accomplished.

The culture that we’re trying to create right now within the organization is a culture of an association that is engaged and effective. We’re out there trying to redefine who we are, almost. We want to be effective for the membership of the organization.

We want to be effective for the veterans in the State of Michigan, veterans all across the nation, which is why we’re doing the 54 by 24 campaign. We also want to be influential for the families. We want to be able to make a difference in the pocketbooks, in the benefits that they have. We want to give them a different perception of who this association is and what we do.

We’re doing that through legislative engagement, policy engagement, the partnerships that we’re creating with consumers, and the services that we’re providing. We are no longer, “Just give me your money, we’ll see you at the State Conference. We’ll see again next year, whenever your dues are expired.” We’re actually being involved.

Just this week, we were a part of a Bill signing within the governor’s office. We were able to advocate for money within the state legislature to go toward armory modernization across the state. We were involved in that conversation. We were engaged.

Even though you may not hear the association being mentioned by name when it comes to who modernized the armory, who built new buildings, who got new facilities for the soldiers and airmen in training, we were involved in that process. Even though you may not know, I was involved in the Post?9/11 GI Bill discussions.

That’s something that we did for you to help the benefits for the soldier and the airmen. The same thing with what’s happening at Selfridge right now. If we look at that facility, and we talk about what happens next, what the future of that is, we’re involved in those conversations. We’re involved in conversations at Camp Grayling, Michigan.

We are an active?involved organization who wants to be the leader for advocacy for not only the National Guard but for veterans across the state of Michigan.

Bill:  I want to reemphasize that for veterans, because I think that, as we started out, we talked about the National Guard Association. People may think, “Oh, well, that’s the National Guard. How does that impact me?” You’re absolutely right. What goes well for the National Guard in any state goes well for all veterans in that state.

Jeff, I appreciate your passion. I appreciate what you’re doing for all of our veterans. I’m looking forward to all the great things that are going to happen over the next few years. Thanks for being on the podcast.

Jeff:  Thank you very much.