Family Support Network Helps Families During Marine Deployments
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, April 7, 2008 Dealing with a loved one’s deployment can be difficult. But for Marine families based thousands of miles from home, the challenges might seem even more daunting if not for an active family support network in place to help them.
Carrie Heironimus, wife of Navy Lt. Brandon Heironimus, right, gets information about family-support programs at a table set up in Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s base exchange from Brenda Hawkins, left, administrative assistant for the Marine Corps Family Team Building program, and Cheryl Roy, center, the base’s readiness and deployment support trainer. Photo by Donna Miles, Department of Defense
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Here at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, home to more than 11,000 Marines and sailors and their families, the Marine Corps Family Team Building program plays a critical role in helping families through multiple deployments.
Historically a volunteer-based effort, the program now benefits from a recent Headquarters Marine Corps decision to create permanent, paid positions at every Marine base to ensure consistent, continuous family support programs throughout the Corps, explained Xiomara Bowes, the program’s director.
The Marine Corps dedicated other expanded resources to the program, as well, introducing broader family support efforts. “We have supplies; we have equipment; we have office spaces; we have facilities,” as well as additional child care and extended-hour training programs, Bowes said.
Now, she said, the program can provide additional services and training, not only to spouses, but also to children of deployed Marines and sailors, as well as their parents and extended families. “It opens it up for more training opportunities, more learning opportunities to just get through the challenging lifestyle,” she said.
But even with this seven-person paid staff, Bowes said the network couldn’t serve the families of about 1,700 currently deployed Marines without a vast volunteer network. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force’s 2nd Battalion is deployed now, and the 1st Battalion is preparing to deploy later this year.
“We’re busy when it comes to deployments, especially with the times we are in,” Bowes said. “There’s simply no way we could provide the support families need by ourselves, without the commitment of our volunteers.”
Bowes described the far-reaching efforts she said are particularly important here, because there’s no way to hop into the family car and drive home, and airline tickets home cost hundreds of dollars.
“There’s a sense of isolation for many of them,” said Bowes, a Navy wife herself who understands the challenges deployments bring. “When you’re here in Hawaii and your family is Montana, it’s not like you can get on a plane and go to Montana.”
The isolation can be particularly difficult for younger spouses experiencing their first deployment, she said. The average Marine here is 19 to 20 years old, and about 25 percent of the base population is married.
Even spouses able to pick up and fly home during the deployment can run into a quandary, explained Cheryl Roy, the base’s readiness and deployment support trainer and wife of a 30-year Marine who recently retired. If they leave their base housing for more than 90 days, they’re required to give it up to the next person in line for housing and to get back on the waiting list when they return.
Their medical benefits can transfer with them, but change because the family is moving from a base outside the continental United States to one within CONUS. And if they have pets, they have to consider the quarantine requirements on their return to Hawaii, Roy said. “It’s not an easy move; even if they decide to do that, it has challenges, as well,” Bowes said.
These factors, she said, make a solid family support network especially important.
Spouses often seek out the Family Team Building staff to help them deal with a particular problems, but get something far more important, Roy said. “I think what they’re looking for and what we’re trying to give them are possibly two different things,” she said, “because they come looking for services, and we want to teach them how to take care of themselves. And if you look at each one of our programs, you’ll see that the commonality is in teaching them and educating them in different ways to do just that.”
Training programs are offered on base and online, and they run the gamut from courses that promote personal development such as communication skills and financial awareness to those that develop career skills.
“Our focus is on empowering them. We’re building resiliency,” Bowes said.
“It’s always going to be up and down. It’s just the nature of being in a military family. … There are constant changes to our lifestyle,” she said. “And so because of that, what we want to build is resiliency so they can accept change, transition from one thing to the next, and never skip a beat. … We want to help build resiliency so they can get through those challenges.
The LINKS program -- better known by its acronym than its full name: Lifestyle Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program -- is a vital part of this effort, Bowes said. She described LINKS as “Marine Corps 101,” a program that teaches families about the Marine Corps and its traditions. This, she said, helps build pride among family members and helps them better understand the culture they live in and how it operates.
LINKS also covers topics ranging from how to read a leave and earnings statement, to what services are provided on base and where to go for them, to an overview of Hawaiian culture and language.
The base’s programs also help families understand the family dynamics that take place before, during and after a deployment. Roy pointed to a seven-stage emotional cycle that begins up to six weeks before the Marine’s departure and continues up to 12 weeks after the homecoming -- each stage involving emotional ups and downs for the family.
“We want to teach them about the emotional cycles of deployment, so they understand and are prepared for the emotional roller coaster,” she said. The Family Team Building program’s offerings span the full deployment cycle, from pre-deployment briefings to prepare families for what’s ahead to support groups during the deployment to a warrior transition briefing that helps redeploying Marines transition back to their roles at home.
To help families reach out to each other and give them a little fun during the deployment the base also sponsors an active Operation Homefront program, said Louise Yeager, Marine Corps community services area coordinator. Each month, the program offers a free event for families of deployed Marines and sailors: a bowling day, pool party, picnic, or visit to the local Tiki Island amusement park.
“The families really look forward to these events,” Yeager said. “It’s a chance for them to have fun, but also to get together with the other family members for sharing and support.”
As the Marine Corps Family Team Building program helps families, it’s also helping improve the Marines’ readiness for their deployments, Bowes said.
If the family is not ready for a deployment and not stable enough to handle the deployment -- to be alone, to be without the second parent -- then the Marine can’t go off and do his job,” she said. “A Marine has to be able to go out and concentrate solely on what the mission is. … We have found that, in order to have mission readiness, you also have to have family readiness. They actually correlate.”
A distracted Marine puts his or her entire unit at risk, Roy said. “And we can’t have that, because we want our Marines and sailors to come home. That’s why we’re so committed to this program. We believe in what we’re doing. We believe in our mission to help them achieve their mission.”