Wolfowitz Meets with Families of Deploying Soldiers
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WURZBURG, Germany, Jan. 31, 2004 When the 14,000 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division deploy from Germany in the coming month, they will leave about 25,000 family members in various German cities.
What happens with the families is important to the Defense Department. So important, in fact, that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made his first stop here a visit with representatives of the Big Red One's Family Support Group.
The 1st Infantry Division is set to relieve the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, where they'll spend a year while their spouses must shoulder the burdens at home.
"If we had to come up with a bumper sticker, it would read, 'Victory for the Soldiers in Iraq; Victory for Family Members at Home,'" said Army Lt. Col. Chris Kolenda, commander of the 1st Infantry Division's rear detachment.
Kolenda is helping to organize the families to confront the yearlong separation. "This isn't about survival," he told Wolfowitz during a briefing. "We want people to say in six years, 'You know, deployment was hard. But we grew as a family, and I'm a better person for it.'"
The division is mobilizing all its assets to help families. The Army Community Service organization, the chaplains and the rear detachment staff all are coordinating to provide services for the families. Complicating the situation is that the division is not all at one place, as stateside divisions typically are. The division has units deploying from various posts in Germany at Kitzingen, Vilseck, Bamberg, Katterbach and Schweinfurt.
The division also will have operational control over the 30th Brigade Combat Team of the North Carolina National Guard and the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii. The 30th has soldiers from nine states, and the 1st Infantry Division is working to ensure their families also feel part of the effort.
Wolfowitz said the family support effort is crucial to the mission of the soldiers in Iraq. If soldiers have no worries, or if they feel good about the care their families are receiving, then they can concentrate on their jobs, he said.
Communication is key to any effort. Both Wolfowitz and Kolenda stressed the importance communicating with the soldiers by e-mail, snail mail or any way possible. They also stressed the need for division officials to address rumors quickly. Kolenda said the division will have a television news program broadcast on American Forces Network-Wurzburg. Officials also will use the division newspaper and a special deployment paper to keep families informed.
Finally, for immediate news, the division will use the Internet to build and sustain a Web page to keep families informed of breaking news.
Officials are encouraging family members to keep occupied. They are touting a program, for example, called "Walk to Iraq (and Back)." They calculate it is 4,000 miles to Iraq and back to Wurzburg. Family members could keep a log of their "mileage." Wolfowitz quickly calculated and said, "That's 12 miles a day." Kolenda said that maybe groups could do it.
The spouses have some concerns about the deployment. First, they asked Wolfowitz to announce quickly who will replace the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq next year. Second, they asked him to ensure the Army sticks by the date they say the division will come home. One woman said it is demoralizing to have a date set in concrete, only to have it pushed back.
Finally, they asked Wolfowitz to use his influence to get first lady Laura Bush to prepare a video aimed at the children of the division. "Of course, it would be better if she came here, herself," said one spouse.
Wolfowitz thanked the leaders of the family support groups for their service. He said America does appreciate their sacrifices and he praised them for doing something for the country. "I felt the positive energy when I walked in," he said. He told the group that if there is anything he can do to "cut through the bureaucracy" he would do it.