Today we had the opportunity to talk to Lonnie Bacon, Oklahoma State Coordinator for Building Healthy Military Communities. We asked Lonnie some questions about the success and challenges of the pilot program to date.
Lonnie Bacon served on active duty in the United States Air Force for 27 years in the Civil Engineer functional area culminating in the promotion to the highest Air Force enlisted rank, Chief Master Sergeant. He is highly decorated for his service to his country during multiple combat campaigns. He deployed 10 times supporting operations Southern Watch, Inherent Resolve, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. While serving his country, Lonnie also obtained a MBA in Human Resource Management from Columbia Southern University. After leaving the Air Force, Lonnie continues to support military personnel by serving as the Oklahoma BHMC Coordinator.
1. Can you briefly talk about what Building Healthy Military Communities program is working on in Oklahoma? What can we expect to see in the next year?
The Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC) a multi-year pilot that aims to better understand unique challenges faced by geographically dispersed Service members and their families that may impact their readiness, resiliency, and well-being. BHMC hopes to better understand resource challenges and develop a comprehensive strategy to support the Chairman’s objective of Total Force Fitness (TFF), which is DoD’s framework for improving health, readiness, and resiliency of its population through eight domains of fitness (physical, environmental, medical/dental, nutritional, spiritual, psychological, behavioral, and social). The program kicked off at the end of 2016 and has been working hard to positively impact Service members and families lives.
Oklahoma’s BHMC program has gotten off to a good start over the past year. Since initiation, the Oklahoma State Coordinator has attended and led 77 meetings with local community service organizations and military leaders, building relationships and partnerships. BHMC has also partnered with the Tulsa Mayors Veterans Advisory Council, Warrior Partnerships of Eastern Oklahoma, Oklahoma Veterans Connections, and the Oklahoma Veterans Family Wellness Alliance to bolster outreach efforts. In partnership with these organizations, the Oklahoma BHMC State Coordinator has attended speed sharing events across Oklahoma, publicizing the BHMC program and making connections with service providers and identifying resources for Service members and families.
Utilizing the connections and partnerships made across Oklahoma, BHMC has built a robust database of Service Providers who can meet the needs of Service members and families. These resources were vetted and posted on the Joint Service Support website via the Service Provider Network. The Service Provider Network is a database of resources that Service members and families can search based on location anytime, with any device that has Internet connectivity. Oklahoma’s Service Provider Network provides links and contact information for over 400 organizations who provide services for Service members and families in need. Oklahoma is proud of the efforts of many organizations that have helped build this network from the ground up during the past few months.
During the next year, Oklahoma BHMC aims to work with organizations across the state to educate Service members and families on available resources utilizing a strategic communication plan to collaborate with the many different offices who provide support for our Service Members. Our goal is to work in concert with the many family service resources that already exist in Oklahoma to help build readiness and resilience resources for our Service members and families. Oklahoma’s Community Capacity Inventory identified that service members and families lacked awareness of community resources and family services. Working with military leaders and family service agencies, BHMC aims to better educate Service members and families on available resources in Oklahoma for service members.
Later this year, the BHMC pilot will also conduct a a Rapid Needs Assessment in Oklahoma, where a team, composed of representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Guard Bureau, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and the Reserve Component Services, will evaluate programs that impact Service members and families across the state, while identifying any gaps that exist. The team is currently waiting for approvals from the Office of Information Management to conduct these assessments.
2. Can you talk about some of the challenges facing BHMC in Oklahoma?
Oklahoma has some challenges based on the resources available in many of the areas where service members live. 68 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma are considered rural counties. In Oklahoma, in the active component, 10% of Service members live in counties not supported by installations and in the reserve component, 56% of Service members live in counties not supported by installations. Oklahoma BHMC aims to identify resources available in these local communities and connect them with geographically dispersed SMVFs in order to improve readiness and resilience across the community. Rural areas away from installations can be a challenge due to limited resources and more difficult outreach efforts.
3. Who has the most to gain from the BHMC program in your state?
Service members and families have the most to gain from the BHMC program. The goal of our program is to improve readiness of our service members to complete the mission; they are the focus of our efforts. However, as we all know, military families also impact readiness. It’s difficult for service members to concentrate on the mission if they are worried about family members back home. Families are also critical to the BHMC mission. The BHMC target area of improvement is service members and their families.
4. What type of collaboration is taking place between the Cooperative Extension System and Building Healthy Military Communities in Oklahoma? How do you see this partnership developing in the future?
Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service has child and youth, financial and nutritional resources. Since Oklahoma identified “fitness” and “financial” as areas of concern in the initial draft of the Oklahoma BHMC state action plan, Cooperative Extension can be an excellent resource for SMs in Oklahoma. Cooperative Extension works well with BHMC’s motivation to reach geographically dispersed service members. The service has offices located in each of the 77 Oklahoma counties that provide financial counseling, financial referrals, and nutritional counseling. Oklahoma BHMC has partnered with OSU extension service and has all of their offices listed as a resource on the Service Provider Network. In the future, Oklahoma can increase awareness of extension services during its strategic communications and outreach to Service members and families.
5. How can military family service professionals, non-profits, or other local organizations get involved with BHMC?
There are numerous ways for family service professionals, non-profits, or other local organizations to get involved with BHMC. BHMC is a conduit of information on resources for SMVFs in Oklahoma. The first step for an organization to get involved is contacting your State Coordinator and becoming a resource on the Service Provider Network. The network is excellent website that can give organizations access to service members with particular needs. The Service Provider Network is also a resource used by military family service professionals to provide service members and families with referrals to non-profits, or other local organizations that can provide helpful resources.
6. Is there anything else you’d like our audience to know?
Service members and their families need your support. Sometimes we might think that all of the Service member’s needs are taken care of by the government or military installations. However, this is not always the case. Not all service members are covered by Tricare, not all service members are meeting their financial responsibilities due to problems with member or spouse employment, and the list can go on and on. We need community resources to help our service members and families reach optimal readiness and resilience. Partnering with BHMC can help our military improve overall total force fitness and the readiness and resilience of our forces.