Called To Serve: A Military Women’s Wellness Series

This week our Friday Field Notes focuses on a program created by two Assistant Professor’s at South Dakota State University to address the needs of an under-served military population…women.    Read on for information on this great program, which utilized cooperative extension specialists as part of the program.

Friday Field Notes

Females associated with the military (service members, veterans, dependents) experience varying stressors.  Today, the United States maintains the largest proportion of females currently serving in the armed forces in history. Females are experiencing more combat than in the past and are returning from combat with varying psychosocial stressors including an increase risk of harassment, sexual assault, mental illness, and unemployment.  Female military dependents may experience impairments in relationships due to the effects of trauma from deployments as well as symptoms of secondary trauma and other mental health issues.

Women associated with the military, including spouses and dependents, are currently an under-served population.  Few programs are available which address the specific needs of females who have a connection to the armed services. A lack of resources can increase stress and negatively impact the overall health and wellness of service men and women. Therefore, programs are needed to provide support and promote wellness among military personnel and families.

To meet this need, we received funding from the Women and Giving Foundation at South Dakota State University (SDSU) to design a series of wellness workshops. Each workshop was informed by one of the Pillars of Wellness established by the National Guard Bureau. In partnership with Michelle Ruesink, Director of Veterans Affairs at SDSU, the workshops were provided to female students and community members with military connections.  The Pillars of Wellness represent elements of one’s overall health including emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and family wellness. SDSU Extension state and field specialists with expertise in the pillars led the activities in each of the workshops. This pilot project was implemented at minimal cost, can be easily replicated, and helped to establish connections with local military organizations.

The following describes each of the workshops in more detail:

Physical Wellness: The health and physical activity extension field specialist facilitated a workshop on healthy eating and physical activity. During the session, participants learned about updated nutritional recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as mobile apps that could be used to quickly estimate calorie intake. Additionally, participants learned and practiced basic yoga exercises for relieving tension.

Emotional Wellness:  A 4-H youth development and resiliency extension field specialist presented a workshop on the qualities associated with resilient individuals, as well as coping strategies that can foster resiliency. Participants formed small groups to discuss challenges that families may experience during military service and brainstormed coping strategies to help overcome those challenges. Additionally, time was provided for self-reflection related to a personal challenge and the development of an individual plan, which included coping strategies discussed during the workshop.

Spiritual Wellness:  A family, life, and child care extension state specialist presented on mindfulness, which is the process of focusing thought and attention on the present moment.  She led the workshop in a yoga studio in the wellness center on campus. Participants had a chance to engage in various mindfulness activities including a basic body scan, mindful walking, and mindful eating. These activities help limit preoccupation with past stressors or future obligations in an effort to reduce anxiety.

Family Wellness:  A family resource management extension state specialist provided strategies for managing family finances. Participants evaluated their needs versus wants and were provided with budget templates and debt calculators. A common concern among participants was related to student loans as many workshop participants were currently attending college or had college-aged children.

Social Wellness:  The last session served as a relaxing social event to wrap up the series. Participants were invited to a food and canvas painting event. A local merchant who hosts private painting parties facilitated the final session. Each participant had the opportunity to create a military-themed painting on her own canvas. During the session, an emphasis was made on the importance of community and maintaining relationships.

Our goal is to expand the programming to the other universities in South Dakota as well as within rural communities across the state.  By utilizing expertise within the University Extension System, we can provide effective programming to meet the needs of military service members and their families.  For more information on the pilot project, please view our publication in the Journal of Military and Government Counseling.

Bjornestad, A., & Letcher, A. (2015). Called to serve:  A military women’s wellness series.  Journal of Military and Government Counseling, 3(3), 215-228.

Meet the authors:

Andrea BjornestadAndrea Bjornestad, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, is an Assistant Professor and extension mental health specialist in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University.  She is a licensed professional counselor in South Dakota.  Her research has focused on examining secondary traumatic stress symptoms in military spouses and the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on military families.  A current project includes designing a wellness inventory for military service members and veterans.  She is a former military spouse who has served on numerous committees to help plan and support events for military veterans and their family members.

Amber LetcherAmber Letcher, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor and 4-H youth development specialist in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University.  Her research focuses on youth development and risk taking in the context of early peer relationships. Her previous work compared the self-reported and observed attachment characteristics of adolescent couples and the relationship between romantic attachment and risk behaviors.  Current projects are exploring youth risk behavior within rural communities, sexual education programming, as well as the effects of youth mentoring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *