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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Airman Joins Forces to Create Blue Watch

Blue Watch ST. PAUL, Minn. - Law enforcement officers and their families face high levels of strain unlike other career professions. A number of studies show that serving as a law enforcement officer ranks as a highly stressful job with an increased risk for developing problems such as post-traumatic stress, substance use and family conflict. This has lead to law enforcement officers experiencing higher rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, PTSD, suicide, heart attacks and other health problems compared to the general population.

Tech. Sgt. Tony Zerwas, a police officer with the Wyoming Public Safety Department and an eight-year veteran of the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing Security Forces has joined forces with others in the field to address this growing problem.

"It is simply astounding how much stress a law enforcement officer is expected to manage on a daily basis," said Zerwas, a Unit Training Manager with the 133rd Security Forces Squadron. "These high levels of stress can compromise the safety and well-being of not only the officers themselves, but also that of those who interact with the officers both on and off the job."

Many departments do not have the resources, such as an employee assistance program, or EAP, to deal with ongoing stress, injury, crisis, and chemical well being of their officers. Often these services are limited by visit, type of service, insurance or provider limitations.

"Even for the few agencies that do have an EAP, there is still a reluctance by many officers to speak with someone within their own department for fear of losing their jobs or being seen as weak or unfit for duty by their peers," said Zerwas.

In early 2015 Zerwas was part of a group that came together and took it upon themselves to solve this problem. They created an organization called Blue Watch that has identified and vetted resources that will provide confidential assistance to law enforcement officers. The group consisted of the spouse of a medically retired officer, an attorney, police officers, a police sergeant, and two Chiefs of Police.

In the mid 1600's volunteers were the ones who signed up to protect their communities. They formed something that was referred to as 'Rattle Watch.' When a Rattle Watch volunteer needed help, they used their wooden rattle to make noise to signal to the others that help was needed. This rattle was used in policing all the way into the 19th century.

"This technique heavily influenced the decision to name the organization and create our logo/brand. In todays world, when an officer needs help, they can utilize the rattle but in a different way...by contacting us at Blue Watch," said Zerwas.

Blue Watch has a specific mission "to create a pathway to wellness resources for law enforcement officers and their families." As part of its development over the last year, the Blue Watch team has created a vetted system of resources for mental health and wellness, as well as injury recovery, utilizing resources from both the HealthPartners system and the local community.

These individuals and groups all offer different avenues and opportunities for our law enforcement officers and families to pursue increased health realization and wellness.

As part of the program they also have multiple levels of planned training and education in development to teach law enforcement officers and their families about the stressors that they will face in their careers and how to address them appropriately. Blue Watch believes that providing these educational resources will set up law enforcement officers to thrive both personally and professionally.

"We envision a future in which it is not just encouraged for law enforcement officers to seek out and utilize resources for wellness, but it is expected of them to do so," said Zerwas. "We believe that Blue Watch can be the driving force behind that expectation. In order to do that we are actively working to identify resources and build our infrastructure so we are in a position to do so."

For more information about Blue Watch and how to help, visit www.BlueWatchUS.org

February 24, 2016
by Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares
133rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs



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