Today’s Friday Field Notes features New York’s Cornell Cooperative Extension system and their efforts to bring more focused attention and leadership to the overlapping domains of military families, veterans, and disaster by creating a new leadership position. The new position indicates increasing recognition that extension is uniquely qualified and positioned to bring high-quality education and outreach to military service-members and their families, veterans, and members of the disaster prevention and response communities, and the communities they serve.
One of the larger challenges for State Family Program Directors, Community Service representatives, Family Advocacy representatives, and others engaged in similar work is that though they may be aware of how Cooperative Extension can be a “force multiplier” in the family readiness mission, they just don’t have a point of contact that seems to be in parity with their positions or areas of responsibility. New York state is hoping to change that.
Chris Watkins, Cornell Cooperative Extension Director, recently announced the half time appointment of Keith Tidball as Assistant Director, Disaster Education, Military Families and Veterans. Tidball, a US Army National Guard veteran, is a senior extension associate in the Department of Natural Resources in CALS who has been conducting research and extension in the contexts of disaster and war for over a decade, and has been with cooperative extension since 2002.
New York State is home to nearly 900,000 Veterans. Seventy-two percent served during periods of combat. Approximately 88,000 New Yorkers served in Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally, New York State is home to approximately 30,000 active duty military personnel as well as an additional 30,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel. New York has the 4th largest number of Veteran-owned small businesses in the country.
New York hosts the largest military base in the northeast, Fort Drum, which is home to 18,000 Soldiers and another 18,000 military family members as well as just fewer than 4,000 civilian employees. New York is also home to the oldest service academy, the United States Military Academy at West Point which trains about 4,400 future Army officers annually. Outside of Fort Drum there are another 3,600 Active Duty military members in New York, while the New York Army and Air National Guard have a combined strength of 16,000 men and women. The federal reserve forces of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps reserves count another 14,500 New Yorkers among their ranks. Clearly there is a large population of military service members and their families to be served by Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Beyond traditional combat and combat support roles, disaster management is often a role played by military and other first responders. Civilians, too, have roles to play in disaster. From business owners, farmers, home-owners, the young and the old, there are educational opportunities and roles for cooperative extension in all four phases of the disaster management cycle. Cooperative extension has specific expertise and experience in rural communities and among the agricultural and natural resources sectors, as well as significant expertise in youth, family, and community education and outreach.
Regarding military families, Tidball will develop a comprehensive program targeted towards the nearly 40,000 service members and military families in New York State, building upon the work of Jefferson County Cooperative Extension and other associations, as well as extension faculty on campus. This military families program will benefit from close affiliation with the US Department of Defense/ US Department of Agriculture Military Extension Partnership, and will leverage existing relationships with the Military Families Learning Network, which serves military family service professionals through engaged online communities. Tidball will work towards a programmatic approach to increase and strengthen community capacity in support of military families, increase professional and workforce development opportunities for those working with military families, and expand and strengthen family, childcare and youth development programs focused on military families.
Finally, addressing the growing Veteran population in New York, Tidball will provide coordination and support of existing programs within CCE, CALS, CHE, ILR and the College of Veterinary Medicine in support of New York’s nearly 900,000 veterans. Further, as Assistant Director he will seek to expand the scope and scale of extension education programming targeting veterans to meet the employment needs of disabled veterans with emphasis directed toward serving those who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, including homeless veterans, and veterans with barriers to employment.
Asked about the new position with Cornell Cooperative Extension administration, Tidball said “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue and expand program areas within cooperative extension that are at the tip of the spear, as they say, the leading edge when it comes to putting knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. I look forward to working in these areas to continue to grow awareness of the power of cooperative extension, to make it ever more visible and viable, especially among those who need it most, when it’s needed most urgently.”