Family Coordinators Help Families Deal With Deployments
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
FORT DIX, N.J., Jan. 25, 1996 Napoleon Bonaparte once said an army marches on its stomach. If the great French general were alive today, he might add "an army marches better and faster if soldiers aren’t worried about family problems at home."
Reserve component officials realized that long before soldiers flocked here to process and train for Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. Realizing that sudden, long callups can create hardships at home, reserve officials made family readiness synonymous with personnel readiness a bit over three years ago.
Since then, they’ve constantly searched for ways to improve family readiness. When troops started processing for Joint Endeavor, officials at the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters in Atlanta sent Maj. Marie Jenkins to search for ideas at Fort Dix’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
"I came for an overview of what happens once soldiers leave their families," said Jenkins, the command’s acting family readiness coordinator. "If they've completed their family care plans, that makes their time here at the mobilization station go smoothly. If their inoculations are in order, financial records are complete and they don't need ID cards, that helps the smoothness."
Being prepared cuts down on the administrative process and gives unit commanders more time for training, Jenkins noted. She said family readiness programs help all Army reservists, including troop programs units, individual mobilization augmentees, individual ready reservists, retirees and family members. The program strives to "eliminate and minimize 'family' detractors that could reduce a soldier's ability to perform, mobilize and deploy," the family readiness coordinator office’s mission statement reads.
"Detractors can be anything from a medical emergency to a money crisis," Jenkins noted. "It could also be a family wanting to know if they can use the commissary, post exchange, child care and other facilities. They need someone to put them in contact with someone who can help.
"That’s what family readiness coordinators do. They deal with anything service members and families need during deployments, including crisis intervention," she continued. "When a unit is mobilizing in their area, they coordinate predeployment briefings for families and soldiers." They send information telling service members what paperwork to bring with them, such as marriage licenses and powers of attorney for someone to care for their children.
During briefings, coordinators bring in lawyers, chaplains, finance representatives and other experts to explain requirements and benefits to soldiers and family members, Jenkins noted. Briefings last about two hours. Then the experts go into separate rooms where soldiers and family members can ask personal questions in privacy, she added.
Jenkins said she picked up several helpful ideas at Dix. One is making the acquaintance of people involved in deployment processing at the mobilization station.
"For instance," she said, "Army Community Services at Fort Dix has information in its data base we can put our fingers on quicker than the way we're currently doing business. Now I know who to go to when I have questions. I just met people from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. If problems come up with reservists and their employers or the family has questions, I know who to call. Getting to know the key people is what is needed in my section to be responsive to families across the country."
Armed with new information about troop deployment, Jenkins said she'll try to change things through education. Among other missions, her office trains family readiness coordinators who in turn train family members who volunteer to help.
"We only have a limited number of paid readiness coordinator positions," she noted. "All other positions are volunteers, usually spouses or friends and soldiers, who keep the program running. They help set up briefings, make phone calls and make sure other families are aware of what's going on. It's a network that starts at our headquarters and goes down to the volunteers."
Family readiness coordinators are assigned at 10 Army Reserve Regional Support Commands in the states and three Army Reserve Command in Germany, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, said Jane Barnard, who trains those coordinators for Jenkins’ office. "We’re starting our fourth year of family support groups and family readiness training at our regional family program academies across the country," she said, noting more than 5,700 people were trained at the academies during the first three years. "We have scheduled 14 1 1/2-day classes this year."
Classes are geared toward key military and civilian personnel involved in family program and the bulk of the family coordinator network -- volunteers, Barnard said. Among other topics, they take courses in activity planning, family assistance centers, how to organize a family support group, family support group newsletters, mobilization exercises and telephone ‘trees,’ she added.
"The network is set up like a tree, you go one layer down on the branches and eventually everyone gets reached," Jenkins said. "The information flow is very important. Hearing what other people are doing is very helpful in developing and improving unit level assistance to families."