Reserve Chiefs Say Family Readiness as Important as
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, June 26, 1996 Family readiness and support in the reserve components are just as important as buying a new submarine, ship, airplane, satellite or tank, Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert A. McIntosh recently told an audience here.
McIntosh, chief of the Air Force Reserve, and his Army counterpart, Maj. Gen. Max Baratz addressed the second annual Army and Air Force Family Readiness Workshops. Participants included nearly 200 family readiness officers, noncommissioned officers, civilian employees and volunteers from throughout the United States and Europe.
The push to establish family readiness and support programs started as a result of the reserve components' inability to handle numerous family emergencies during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Reserve officials realized there is a direct relationship between reservists' ability to successfully accomplish a mission and the quality of life their families experience.
Emphasizing that the services need to work together to improve family support, Baratz said, "DoD isn't a growing business; we're a declining business, and resources are valuable and scarce. But we've got to ensure we have adequate funds for family support, and we've got to pay attention to what we're doing in the family support business. What we do for a living, besides producing ready units, is take care of soldiers and their families."
Many reservists live far from a military family support system, McIntosh said. "They serve in many different places that are far removed from their family support systems," McIntosh said.
Reserve component officials hope to erase many problems in solving family emergencies with a new a global communications system called "FAMNET," or family network. The system will link reserve family readiness coordinators with active duty family support centers and provide round-the-clock access during contingencies and crises. The system will link all reserve components together.
McIntosh said the Air Force Reserve recently obtained money to hire more civilian family readiness coordinators, but it's not enough to hire as many civilian employees needed to reach all reservists families.
"We'll likely never have enough funding for family readiness and family support," McIntosh said. "That's why volunteers are so important."
Family support center staffs -- civilian, military and volunteers -- help military families in a variety of ways, particularly when sponsors are deployed or on extended active duty. They coordinate family programs on and off base, act as an information and referral service and provide family education and life skills programs.
The centers' core function is linking individuals and families with the right resource -- on the installation or in the civilian community -- to meet their specific needs.
They also travel to reserve units across the country to train volunteers and conduct seminars and classes on personal financial management, career programs and family life education. Topics include deployment and family separation, stress management, family finance, marriage enrichment, cultural adaptation.
Pointing to Operation Joint Endeavor as an example of the constant need for family assistance, McIntosh said Air Force Reservists are deployed worldwide. In Bosnia, for instance, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard pilots have flown about 16 percent of all F-16 Fighting Falcon sorties, 25 percent of A-10 Thunderbolt II missions, 45 percent of the KC-135 tanker flights and larger percentages of some strategic airlift operations, he noted.
Hundreds of reservists are deployed throughout the world on any given day, he noted.
"You're (the reserve family readiness coordinators)an important part of the defense of this nation and the readiness of the Air Force and Army Reserve," McIntosh told the Dallas audience.
Baratz noted the Army Reserve has 76 percent of the service's medical units and virtually all its civil affairs and chemical units, rear area operations centers and lawyers. All the Army's nonactive duty combat units are in the National Guard; combat support units are split between the Guard and Reserve, he added. Every time the active Army deploys, officials activate Guard and Reserve units to support the operation, he said.
"Therefore, what family support coordinators do is terribly important," Baratz said. "It isn't an easy business if you're in the active component of the Army or Air Force. But it's an easier business than it is being in the reserves because people leave an Army post or air base and they all do the same things. They understand that's what the neighbors do on the left and that's what the neighbors do on the right."
But when guardsmen and reservists go away, life in their neighborhoods goes on, Baratz said. "That makes it a very important business for the family support business," he noted. "Some of the people you service and work with and for in the Army and Air Reserve, don't know how to do simple things in a military environment."
Whereas it's everyday practice for active duty personnel and their families to use the commissary, exchange service and other facilities, it's frustrating for some reservists, Baratz said.
"You need to put yourself in the shoes of the person we call to the colors for deployment or extended active duty," the general said. "Some of these people have never made a deployment before."
For example, Baratz said, a senior sergeant or lieutenant colonel may have never been away from home in 25 years as a reservist. Consequently, the family may agonize over managing the family bank account, or child care, or medical care. The problem could be worse for a reservist in his or her 20s with small children, he added.
"Going to a military installation to use the facilities becomes daunting because in about 70 percent of the country, there are no military installations easy to get to by reservists," Baratz said. "They have to drive four or five hours to get to a commissary and exchange service."
Nearly 2,200 Army reservists and 1,000 guardsmen are supporting the Bosnian peacekeeping mission. About the same number are poised to replace the reservists who are rotating home. Air Force reserve component participation, which peaked at 421 in March, had dropped to about 160 by mid-June.
"This also raises cultural problems, which is another reason family support is so important," Baratz said. "When reservists families have problems, they need someone to turn to for help. They can't turn to their neighbors, because their neighbors don't understand."