Family Preparatory Academy Goes Virtual

December 5, 2020 (ST. PAUL, Minnesota) — Soldiers and families from detachments of the 1-171 General Support Aviation Battalion, based at the Army Aviation Support Facility in St. Cloud, Minnesota, attended the Minnesota National Guard’s first completely-virtual Yellow Ribbon Family Preparatory Academy recently as the unit prepares for an upcoming deployment.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has put in place tightened travel restrictions and implemented social distancing and other unprecedented courses of action, the National Guard continues to seek innovative solutions to prepare for and conduct Soldier movement and service. One successful approach was implemented this week with the first completely virtual Family Preparatory Academy. This one-day event provided Soldiers and their families with information and resources to help prepare, assist, and support them during their upcoming deployment; a traditional offering by the MNNG via a non-traditional venue.

1st Lt. Nathan Geislinger and his wife Claire attended the one-day event from the comfort of their living room. 1st Lt. Geislinger is a Chinook Platoon Leader and has been in the National Guard for seven years. This is his first deployment.

“Information on maintaining communication during the deployment really hit home,” said Claire. “Even amid the pandemic, we had the opportunity to learn about what to expect during the deployment and gained a number of good ideas for coping with his absence.”

This first fully-virtual Minnesota National Guard Yellow Ribbon Family Preparatory Academy was designed to ensure Soldiers and their families remain informed, engaged, and connected.

“The Minnesota National Guard remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of our Soldiers and their families during this pandemic and always,” said Capt. Justin Fedorowski, Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program Project Officer. “We are committed to making sure Soldiers and their families have all the resources they need as they prepare for and during the deployment.”

Fedorowski and his staff embarked on this new ground, applying lessons learned during months of transition throughout both the military and the civilian sector, the latter where most National Guard Soldiers work and study on a day-to-day basis.

The Family Preparatory Academy is ordinarily a large and complex undertaking that starts with identifying a location that can accommodate Soldiers, their families, and many supporting military and civilian participants and ends long after the last well-fed and well-informed Soldiers and family members return home. While it reduced logistical requirements for Soldiers and their families, the movement to a virtual event brought on new challenges. Organizers had to plan and validate technical aspects of remote presentation for speakers and vendors who were physically present and the Soldiers and family members attending at home.

A general morning session covering shipping personal items, military health care, resiliency, and communication was followed by a series of individuals from military and civilian organizations who each provided a brief introduction to the resources they have available for Soldiers and their families. These individuals were subsequently available for virtual individual and group consultations, an offering that required separate virtual rooms based on subject matter. 

“All the rooms were available simply by clicking a hyperlink, which made things run extraordinarily well,” said Warrant Officer Dom Wippler, a Chinook Pilot who will deploy with the unit. “We had Soldiers with military or civilian technical expertise on standby to assist deployers and their families with any technical difficulties, but for the most part, everything ran smoothly.”

In addition to the general and individual breakout sessions, participants had the opportunity to choose two from among seven sessions offered in the afternoon.

“We are pleased to have been able to provide the information and resources to ensure Soldiers and their families are well prepared for the deployment,” said Fedorowski. ”We were also able to meet our goal during this virtual academy of ensuring family members and Soldiers were actively engaged.”

Story by Lt. Col. Cheryl Wachenheim, Family Programs Officer, Minnesota National Guard