Army National Guard Takes a Day for Families
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON HALL STATION, Va., March 20, 2006 Soldiers, families and the people who support them gathered at the Army National Guard Readiness Center here March 17 for the installation's first Open House focusing on the military family.
America Supports You and Military OneSource manned booths at the first ever "Open House" for military families at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., Mar. 17. Pictured here, representatives from National Guard Bureau Family Programs answer questions. Photo by Paul X. Rutz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This town-hall-style meeting with senior leadership and several family support organizations offered an informal chance for participants to learn about programs available to help soldiers and their families at all stages of their deployment cycle.
An array of 18 booths in the atrium outside the meeting hall, to include one sponsored by DoD's "America Supports You" program, gave attendees a chance to talk further, sign up for services and volunteer to help. America Supports You facilitates grassroots and corporate support for the nation's servicemembers and their families through a Web presence and at events around the country.
Army Lt. Col. Michael Lawrence, a strategic communications officer, called the meeting an education effort. "This is about exposure of our leadership to the people in the building," he said. "They don't have a chance at all times to get with the director or the senior leadership to hear their views on things, on events, and what's happening in the world with the Guard."
Also, Lawrence said, the event showed support for people who work at the center as they deploy overseas. He stressed three main pillars of National Guard support -- soldiers, families and employers -- and he explained that without support from all three, the Guard would not be able to provide troops for the nation's defense.
"You recruit the soldier, but you retain the family," he said. "There's really no stronger force in the Guard than the family."
Families in every state are affected every day by National Guard deployments, Lawrence said, and he hopes events like this one will help connect people to the help they need.
"We're going through a transition about what (family support) means, and the way we go about caring for people," said Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard. He stressed the need for aid programs, which offer information and other services in unconventional ways.
The third employer-support pillar is the National Committee for Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve.
"We provide free education, consultation, and, if required, mediation for the employers of our servicemen and women in the reserve components and the National Guard," said Ted Kehr, ESGR division chief. "Our mission statement is to gain and maintain active public support of all public and private employers of men and women in the National Guard and Reserve."
Kehr said ESGR has three core programs: One awards employers who go above and beyond what they are required to do by law in supporting their employees as they leave the workforce to fight. Another, called the "Statement of Support" program, actively seeks public demonstration of employer support and assigns employers a grade of one to five stars based on the levels of support they offer.
The third program offers mediation. "We offer an ombudsman program, an informal mediation program, to assist (returning troops) in whatever mediation might be required to get the job back, and if that is able to be done with informal mediation, then we work with the Department of Labor to ensure that the law is in effect," he said.
Kehr also talked about a new ESGR program to be launched in June called "Pinnacle Advance." It focuses on reaching out to soldiers through their military units, rather than through their employers, so Guard and Reserve members have a more direct connection to ESGR services.
"Every unit will be contacted, every unit will be given literature, so that each person in uniform can go back and see if we can't gain more of those employers for their statements of support," Kehr said.
Family Readiness Groups were on hand to answer questions about their services and to seek volunteers from among the meeting's participants. Run mainly by deployed troops' spouses, these groups handle informal family support through phone calls and meetings, offering services to ease deployment burdens.
The program "has been around for a while, but there's a pressing need for it now," said Melissa Pounding, referring to the high National Guard deployment rates of the past three years.
"This is all supported by the Army at the highest levels," said Claire Lebling of Military OneSource, an Internet and telephone program that allows troops to access the military's services from anywhere in the world.
She explained that many soldiers back from deployment who need to talk to someone don't want to use military counselors because they believe it might hurt their careers. Through Military OneSource and other programs, returning troops can see qualified therapists out in the community, with no paper trail, at no cost to them.
Other groups, offering everything from free tax preparation services to courses on military weddings, participated in the event.
These services are essential to the National Guard, whose members are scattered throughout the nation and working in civilian jobs, rather than living and working together full time on active duty, said Army Maj. Michael Ford of the "Well Being" program.
"We're community-based, not installation-based," he said. "(We're here) to ensure that the families and soldiers ... are getting the things they need."