An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | May 1, 2024

IPPW team using prevention to help VNG maintain readiness

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

While the Virginia National Guard has long had dedicated personnel ready to respond to a Soldier or Airmen in crisis, a new team of specialists is focusing on prevention to help maintain the force’s readiness and health. 

The Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce is a team of eight prevention specialists, led by the VNG’s Integrated Primary Prevention Officer, William Downey. The team includes several general prevention specialists, as well as personnel focused on self-directed harm prevention, sexual violence prevention, family violence and abuse prevention and workplace violence and harassment prevention. 

“Our mission is to pursue a holistic approach of integrated primary prevention aimed at preventing harmful and violent behaviors such as sexual assault, harassment, domestic abuse, child abuse and suicide in our state and military communities,” said Downey. 

Congress mandated each state and territory establish IPPW teams to address harmful behaviors impacting service members and their families. The VNG team was directed to stand up in Fiscal Year 2024, but Downey’s team stood up in September of 2023, ready to get to work. 

The IPPW team works together and in concert with existing entities like the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program with the ultimate goal of solidifying the organization’s health, safety and readiness.

“Our team focuses on analyzing unit data to identify persistent barriers to readiness at the individual, relationship, and community levels,” explained Downey. “After conducting a needs assessment, our team will work with commanders and other unit leaders to implement changes or activities that meet their specific needs. Prevention activities will vary depending on the identified needs of the unit. We are sharing the road with existing programs to enhance their abilities to reach the communities we serve.”

Downey’s team of specialists bring a wealth of experience from military and civilian backgrounds, and all share a passion for prevention and helping people. 

Destiny Hairston, a Primary Prevention Specialist, also serves in the VNG, assigned to the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. In addition to being a traditional Guard Soldier, she’s worked in the human services field for two years, including time spent working with abused women. 

“I think that’s really when I connected with people,” said Hairston. “It goes from helping them learn life skills and putting their life back together after being physically abused by the person that’s supposed to love them. That really touched my heart and I wanted to continue that. So I transitioned over to Family Programs where I could implement those skills but with Soldiers, because I’m a Soldier myself. But, I wanted to do more, so this position opened up, and prevention is the heart and soul of human services.” 

Kasie Grover serves as the team’s self-harm prevention specialist. A former service member and a military spouse, she previously worked in a SHARP program, on the response side. She said the things she encountered in that capacity opened her eyes to the need to get ahead of problems before they happen. 

“Being on the response side, you hear everything, and it’s all connected,” said Grover. “So when I heard about this team launching, I said that’s awesome, because that’s what we need - prevention - to get ahead of the issues.”

Justin Kornfeld, another Primary Prevention Specialist, decided to get into his current position after years of working in corporate America, as well as serving in the active duty, Guard and Army Reserve, where he continues to serve part-time.

“Being able to get back to the community which was really good to me is so important,” said Kornfeld. “In this role, I can really affect change in people’s lives. You can truly help someone, and be able to sleep at night knowing you’ve done good for the community.”

Kornfeld also spoke highly of his IPPW teammates, noting that while they each have their own areas of responsibility, any of the team is able to jump in and serve in any needed role. 

“I am so fortunate to have really good teammates and colleagues,” he said. “Everybody is so selfless and we’re very collaborative in our efforts.”

While focusing on the VNG’s ranks, being a part of the team is also helping the IPPW’s specialists cope and heal themselves. Jo Ann Herren, the team’s Sexual Violence Prevention Specialist, spent 13 years working in SHARP on the response side, an important role but one which takes a toll. Herren said the vicarious trauma she experienced led her to her new position in prevention.  

“I knew at some point I needed to step away from the program,” said Herron. “So when this prevention job became available, it still allowed me to stay in the arena and work on the prevention side versus the response side. Those individuals need advocates fighting for them and speaking out for them when they’re unable to do for themselves. It’s always been a passion of mine.”

Eventually, the IPPW team will expand to add four more prevention specialists at the brigade level. 

Downey said he hopes the benefits his team will impart on the VNG’s formations will be substantial. 

“Our efforts are to foster a community of practice that encourages healthy habits, empathy, communication, and help-seeking behaviors,” he said. “We also want to cultivate the values of inclusivity, connectedness, dignity, and respect.”

News Archive by Category

All Entries