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Reserve Call-ups Highlight Family Issues

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2000 – Reservists in the old days could expect to serve one weekend a month and two weeks training in the summer.

Not any more.

Today, reserve component personnel must make a full-time commitment to a part-time career. They have to be ready and willing to deploy, and their employers and families have to be ready and willing to let them go.

Nearly 864,000 personnel serve as selected reservists in the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Naval Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve, the Coast Guard Reserve, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. They are being called to active duty involuntarily to an unprecedented extent, according to officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Reserve and National Guard members now deploy as units and individually and serve alongside active duty service members in such world hotspots as Bosnia, Kosovo and the Persian Gulf. Units from New Jersey to California take turns keeping the peace in the Balkans and patrolling the U.N.-mandated no-fly zones over Iraq. They also provide support services and humanitarian assistance in the United States and many other countries in the wake of natural disasters.

DoD turned to the reserve components to supplement the active force following the post-Cold War drawdown, according to Army Col. James L. Scott II, director of Individual and Family Support Policy within DoD's Reserve Affairs Manpower and Personnel office. This changing role significantly affected reserve and guard personnel and their families.

"It began to come to light about 1990 when the Gulf War crisis mobilization deployments hit all of the reserve components," said Scott, a member of the Missouri Army National Guard. "Most of the tactical and the training preparations had been completed, but many of the family preparations had not."

Previously, Guard and Reserve units mainly were seen as community-based militia, Scott said. Most of the reserve component families' day-to-day support services came from the local community. Reserve component officials had not put a lot of emphasis on family readiness.

Officials discovered that many reserve component personnel had not shared information with their families. As a result, once they deployed, complications and difficulties arose when family members tried to access military benefits and didn't understand how or didn't have the right documentation.

Families new to the military, in particular, were unfamiliar with available benefits and programs, Scott said. About 40 percent of the reserve force have eight years of service or less. "Those that had been around the Guard and Reserve a long time were much more prepared in general."

DoD officials also learned that many reserve component families live in remote areas where there are no, or very few, military facilities. Today, about 245,000 reserve component families live more than 50 miles from the nearest active duty military base.

In the decade since the Gulf War, both active duty and reserve affairs officials have turned the spotlight on family readiness. DoD's Office of Family Policy and reserve affairs office formed a partnership to improve family support. A planning conference in September 1999 spotlighted the families' need for timely and accurate information and leadership emphasis of family readiness.

"Not only that it is important and linked to mission readiness, but that it needs to be resourced just as training needs to be resourced," Scott said. "It will not happen by accident. You have to put some effort into it. You have to dedicate your resources to it."

In March 2000, the DoD reserve affairs office published a strategic blueprint for Total Force family support in the 21st century. The plan provides a road map for offering greater support to National Guard and Reserve families as they weather the stresses of separations and long deployments. It also aims to ensure reserve component families are served adequately by military family care systems, networks and organizations.

"As we suspected, there was a great hunger for accurate and timely information," Scott said. "We worked with contractors in the Office of Family Policy and the offices within Reserve Affairs to publish the 'Guide to Reserve Family Member Benefits.'"

The booklet, now downloadable from the Internet at http://dod.mil/ra, provides "an encapsulated current view of the correct information on the benefits and how to access them and a point of contact, either an 800 telephone number or a Web site," Scott said.

About 15,000 printed copies of the guide went out in January; another 10,000 updated copies are being printed. As of mid-August, the Web version has had 155,000 hits.

"In the process of updating the guide and considering the clamor for that information, the National Guard Bureau entered into a partnership with their recruiters, retainers, strength management folks and with the Air Force Reserve," Scott said. "They are printing half a million copies of the guide so that every member of the Air or Army Guard that is liable to be deployed, and their family members, will have a copy."

This fall, 75,000 reserve component members and 43,000 spouses will be asked to fill out surveys on a wide range of programs, policies and issues affecting their quality of life. It will be the first such survey in eight years. Results will provide a comprehensive look at morale, civilian work, economic issues, training, benefits and programs.

Reserve Affairs officials have developed a new logo to represent the reserve components' family-friendly initiatives. "We are encouraging all of the services and reserve components to begin using that on their signage and all their communications, bulletins and newsletters, and so forth," Scott said.

They are also developing a family program tool box for commanders, family support groups and individuals that will list things families should do to prepare and where to get help in doing them, he said.

"It's going to have many facets to it. We're working through a contractor to have that professionally published," he added. "We found that marketing and packaging is just as important as having the right information. Put all the right information out on dull paper in black and white and it will sit on a shelf and gather dust. We learned our lesson well with that little booklet and we are going to continue that same philosophy."

Reserve Affairs officials are also developing a master training calendar listing all the services' and reserve components' training for their full-time professional staff, volunteers and family support group leaders.

"One of the things that came out of the conference was that we have to learn to work smarter together and share information and share resources," Scott said. He expects the calendar to be available on the web sometime later this year.

As a result of the new emphasis on family support, Scott added, some reserve component units set up family assistance centers during deployments. Maryland's 629th Army National Guard Battalion recently set up a center in the local unit armory and hired a temporary full-time captain to be the center commander.

"He had toll free numbers," the colonel said. "He had pagers. He had cell phones. Anybody that had a problem came right to him, and if he was not able to answer a question he would send a message and get the answer."

Family readiness is part of the total package for all service members, Scott concluded. Whether an individual is married, single, has children or does not have children, everybody has a family. Be it a parent, brother, sister, son, daughter or spouse, there will be people who will have critical needs in the member's absence.

"If you have to pull them in out of the mission environment and let them dedicate personal time to handling the crisis, it impacts your mission capability," he stressed.

By and large, Scott said, units that have deployed fully recognize the importance of family readiness. "The ones that have been there and done that, stand up and yell, applaud, cheer and whistle, and say, 'Yes!'" he said.

"More and more units are 'getting it' as they see the reserve components being relied on more and more," Scott said. "They understand the criticality, because it's no longer a matter of 'if' you are going to be mobilized and deployed, it is a matter of 'when.'"

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