Prioritizing the Health of the Force

  • Published
  • By MSgt. Kellen Kroening
  • 128th Air Refueling Wing

The 128th Air Refueling Wing hosted the Bi-Annual Community Commanders Call on behalf of Zablocki Veterans Affairs and Milwaukee Vet Center 12 Nov. 2019 at Sijan Hall, General Mitchell Air National Guard Base. 

Over the past five years the Zablocki VA and the Milwaukee Vet Center have facilitated a meeting with all commanders and key leaders of local Milwaukee military units.

The purpose is to provide education on VA/Vet Center resources, discuss behavioral health issues in their units, and to forge a stronger relationship with the Wisconsin National Guard, the US Coast Guard, and reserve units from the Army, Marines, and Navy.

Community mental health providers, Summit Psychological Clinic, Aurora Psychiatric Center and Red Oak Counseling were in attendance. 

John Kozlowski from the Milwaukee Vet Center welcomed participants and said, “The mission of the commanders call is to bring joint forces and community partners together to offer resources to the military members.”

Colonel James Locke, the 128th wing commander addressed the audience and discussed some of the issues affecting Airman wellness and recent feedback gained from the resilience tactical pause mandated by the Chief of the Air Force, General David Goldfein. 

“We are focusing on developing protective factors such as connection and belonging to help our community thrive and create a more hopeful, resilient, and mission ready force,” said Locke.

During the meeting Kami Ward LCSW, director of the 128th psychological health program presented the ‘Achievement of Excellence in Wingman Care’ award to Daniel Benavides LCSW from Summit Psychology Clinic.


“Dan Benavides has never been in the military but when a letter came to his office from an organization that contracts with the military requesting military family life consultants he enthusiastically applied, wanting to serve the military in some way,” said Ward.


“Dan had no idea that his first assignment, almost within days of acceptance, would be something beyond military life consulting.” said Ward.


In November of 2009, Benavides was assigned to Fort Hood in Texas following a mass shooting on base.  The assignment was further complicated by the fact that the shooter was military and a trusted psychiatrist.


Ward continued, “Supporting the crisis event Dan was away from home for four weeks, including Thanksgiving.  He said his most memorable moment was having Thanksgiving Dinner with the troops.  Right then he got a little taste of the challenges one might face during a deployment.” 


Dan was thanked for his service in caring for military members throughout the U.S. and around the world.  Especially for his excellence in Wingman care while serving the Wisconsin Air National Guard and the 128th Air Refueling Wing. 


During the commanders call, Col. Locke was also presented with an ‘Achievement of Excellence in Wingman Care’ award.


“We were so impressed with his dedication to his military members,” said Kozlowski. “We just wanted to show our appreciation for his support over the years.”


Success rests with Airmen engaging with other Airmen as Wingmen.  In other words; a way that fosters communication and connection. Practicing being a good Wingman is something that can be done on a daily basis not just in flight.


In sharing best practices, lessons learned, obstacles to overcome and resources available during these all-service community commander’s calls the goal is to improve mental health programs, eliminate barriers to mental health treatment and build relationships that will ultimately improve the health of our force