Reserve Components Honor Seven Family Readiness Programs
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2006 The reserve components' top family readiness programs for 2005 were honored today during the Defense Department's 5th annual awards ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said the seven winners of the 2005 DoD Reserve component family support awards are "the best of the best." Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The DoD Reserve Family Readiness Awards were established in 2000 to recognize the top unit in each Reserve component that demonstrates outstanding family readiness while maintaining superior mission readiness," master of ceremonies James Scott, DoD's reserve affairs director for individual and family policy, told the attendees. "Family readiness is a key component of mission readiness, and robust family readiness programs have greatly enhanced the deployability of the Guard and Reserve."
Scott noted the critical role the reserve components are playing in the global war on terrorism and the unprecedented need to deploy them far from home for long periods. "Improved family readiness programs and command emphasis have enabled Guard and Reserve families to be prepared when the servicemember is called to active duty," he said.
Scott said each reserve component carefully selected its winner from among a large pool of deserving nominees. The nominees were forwarded to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs for final approval.
This year, the Military Officers Association of America joined Reserve Affairs in honoring the outstanding family readiness organizations. Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, presented the award -- an engraved commemorative plaque and a signed certificate of appreciation. The association's president, retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, made a special presentation to each recipient: a $1,000 check, the first year a monetary award was given. Ryan also presented the winners with a certificate and an association memento.
The Army National Guard winner is the2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, 32nd Infantry Brigade Separate (Light) from Appleton, Wis.
"This unit has been deployed to Iraq since June of 2005 - about 620 members are currently deployed," Scott noted. "The Family Readiness Group has helped to ease the uncertainties and concerns of families by providing information support, quality of life programs and assistance in personal matters."
Calling the Family Readiness Group "the best in the Army National Guard," Scott said the group established an effective phone-tree notification process and ensured that families were enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. The group also created an e-mail database and an interactive Web site.
The Army Reserve winner is the 10th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 108th Division, from Jacksonville, Fla. "This unit, a health services training organization, demonstrated mission and family readiness during the 2005 mobilization and deployment, by ensuring 100 percent of all soldiers' spouses were contacted and provided with all pertinent information," Scott said.
The Family Readiness Group also helped ensure that all families had individual family-care plans prior to deployment, he noted. "The unit's Operation Yellow Ribbon program has been a tremendous morale boost for the soldiers and their families, ensuring all family members of deployed soldiers receive all the necessary care and help while the soldier is deployed," Scott said. "Twenty-five members of this unit are scheduled to be deployed in April."
The winning Naval Reserve unit was the Electronic Attack Squadron 209 based at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The combat-experienced Naval Air Reserve squadron's members provide more then 45 percent of the total deployed man-days per year, Scott noted. "The squadron is committed to ensuring the families are ready for deployment," he said. "The ombudsman plays a significant role in developing and fostering family readiness and is fully engaged with the command."
Scott said the unit's strong family readiness program keeps all families informed and updated, and a comprehensive sponsor program highlights the squadron's efforts.
For the Marine Corps Reserve, the winner is the 1st Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division, Alameda, Calif. "This unit has devoted all available resources, funding, time and manpower to enhance the family readiness and key volunteer training programs," Scott said.
Noting that the command has units in seven different geographical locations, Scott said every unit reinforces the same core values and enthusiasm for the family readiness program, with particular attention for pre-deployment preparation.
"Less than 1 percent of the battalion could not deploy due to insurmountable family circumstances," he noted. "With a population as diverse as its mission, covering 10 states and speaking more than 10 different languages, the unit has an active relationship with Military OneSource for interpreter needs, including translation of newsletters, Web pages and live telephone interpreters." Military OneSource is a Web-based guide for servicemembers and their families seeking assistance of all kinds.
The Air National Guard winner is the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, Calif. The wing's family program coordinator and the numerous volunteers have provided a reliable resource for all wing members and their families during both combat and peacetime missions, Scott said.
"Through their tremendous efforts and involvement in unit activities, such as deployments, exercises and wing morale events, they ensure each member is ready and able to perform their mission," he continued. "The wing Operation Ready Families program is dedicated to ensuring the availability, coordination, preparation and dissemination of relevant and reliable information to ensure all unit and family members are knowledgeable and prepared."
The Air Force Reserve winner was the 315th Airlift Wing based at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Scott said the 315th Airlift Wing Family Support Office supports more than 2,500 reservists and their families 365 days a year, 24 hours a day with a staff consisting of one director and five reservists.
He said the office goes above and beyond, ensuring all servicemembers returning home from deployments are met upon arrival, briefs family members at the airport or airfield on reunion issues, and makes follow-up contact within 30 days. "This superior family support program targets the needs of the airmen and their families ensuring that they are ready for deployment and families are well supported in the members' absence," Scott said.
"The 'Hearts Apart' program helps families stay in contact while deployed to keep lines of communication open and lower the stress of separation."
For the Coast Guard Reserve, the winner was Port Security Unit 307 from St. Petersburg, Fla., the second consecutive year and the fifth time PSU 307 has received this award, Scott noted. The unit credits its family support and ombudsman program with contributing positively to both retention and readiness, he said.
"The unit's efforts to minimize the impact of mobilization on families included quickly resolving pay and benefit issues, providing routine legal assistance, holding a family day for members and family members, and preparing a monthly newsletter," Scott said. "While deployed in response of Hurricane Katrina, they used e-mail and voice mail to communicate current information directly to family members."
Hall called the awards ceremony "one of the most important events that I go to, because it honors volunteers, honors people that care for our families and are an immense help."
"So to get these seven winners here and to have all the officials here is the highlight of my year," he said, "because they do such a job in supporting our young men and women."
Calling the seven award recipients "the best of the best," Hall said, "we think family readiness, support of our families and support of the troops is one of the most important things we do. So we look nationwide in all seven components and all the family readiness programs throughout, and these seven are truly the best of the best."
Hall said the volunteers who work family readiness programs make a big difference. "Part of our challenge is that guardsmen and reservists live all over; they don't just live around the base," said Hall, a retired two-star admiral. "So to reach those families in remote areas requires extraordinary efforts. Many times a battalion or a brigade would be drawn from five states, so you might have five states worth of families to take care of. So they're truly making a difference."
He noted that, among a host of other things, family readiness groups help families with benefits and help them with medical issues. "They don't replace the chain of command, but they augment the chain of command," Hall noted.
"If there are family emergencies that people need help with, or loans for ... all sorts of things that families might need," he said. "If the car breaks down while the servicemember is gone, there's somebody at the other end of the line who cares and wants to help. That makes an enormous difference."
Hall said the Guard and Reserve represent about 45 percent of the military, which equates to about 1.1 million servicemembers. "There are 125,000 mobilized, and we've had more than 200,000 along the way, so they're making a tremendous difference in this international war on terror," Hall noted.