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Program Helps North Carolina Guard, Reserve Families

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2005 – Concern for deployed guardsmen and reservists from North Carolina and compassion for their loved ones left behind prompted a retired general to spearhead the creation of a program to help the combatants' families, particularly those in remote areas.

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Deborah Reed, left, a Citizen-Soldier Support Program liaison for western North Carolina, poses with Mary M. Keller, executive director of Military Child Education Coalition, during the groups 7th annual conference in Atlanta that ended July 1. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Citizen-Soldier Support Program got started through the efforts of retired Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Doug Robertson, "who recognized the need for citizen-soldier families to have more things available to them within their communities," said Deborah Reed, program liaison. "One of his goals was to help reach the needs of these families."

During a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service, Robertson, now director of the Citizen-Soldier Support Program, explained how the program got started.

He said several colleagues created the program, a "collaborative effort," at the University of North Carolina. "We saw the need, developed the concept, engaged help from our congressional delegation and eight other partner institutions, and got the program under way in January," Robertson noted.

Funded through a Defense Department grant, the program's hub is at UNC's Chapel Hill, N.C., campus, in partnership with other universities, including Duke, North Carolina State, East Carolina, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro and Virginia Tech.

"Services needed by Guard and Reserve families are not always readily available, because they live in all 100 counties of North Carolina, which means many families are not close to active-duty military installations," said Robertson.

Some states, such as West Virginia and Oregon, don't have active-duty military installations, he noted. But, he said, "there are services in local communities, such as volunteer and service organizations -- churches, schools and civic organizations that can provide assistance for military families."

Robertson said CSSP is designed to mobilize communities and make them aware of the fact that military families live in the communities so people can reach out and help when help is needed. The program is designed as a preventive measure, as opposed to a crisis-response structure -- to help with little things before they become big things, Robertson said.

Program liaisons like Reed work with communities to help get information and assistance to military families, he said. "There are many ways we do that," said Robertson, but he pointed out that when a family doesn't have a computer or Internet access, that limits its ability to get the information it needs.

"Our liaisons work with local libraries to make computers available so military families can access information like the 'Military OneSource' Web site," he said. "They're working with parks and recreation departments to arrange for discounted events and services. They're also working to raise awareness in schools about the stresses children experience when their parents are deployed."

Military OneSource is the primary, single source of quick access to help and support for mobilized military personnel and their children. Families, to include those of National Guard and Reserve members, can call to request assistance on parenting and childcare information on a wide range of subjects, including discipline, communication, developmental ages and stages, family relationships, adoption assistance, children's behavioral issues, mental health and preparing for deployment.

"A lot of people in civilian communities are not aware of these things," Robertson said. "Many people want to help, but don't know how to do it or who to call. Our community liaisons can help answer these questions and thus enable citizens to help the military family down the street."

Reed, the citizen-soldier liaison for western North Carolina, said the program has five liaisons spread out across the state to help Guard and Reserve families in areas void of military installations. Fort Bragg, N.C., the closest installation to her Canton, N.C., office, is about a five-hour drive away. "We have a huge component of National Guard and Army Reserve in our area, and many of them have been deployed," Reed noted.

North Carolina has more than 21,000 National Guard and Reserve members, according to CSSP statistics.

The mother of three children and grandmother of six used herself as an example of someone with a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. She said a son-in-law, Sgt. Travis Stamey, 23, is serving as a military policeman in Iraq with the National Guard's 105th Engineers from Asheville, N.C. "He just came home for his two weeks (of rest and recuperation leave) on June 1 and saw his 6-month-old son for the first time," she noted.

The support program uses existing agencies within counties and communities to broadcast the needs of military families, Reed noted. "These families are eligible for a lot of benefits, but when we're six hours away from the closest military installation, it's very hard to reach out and get the resources they need," she said. "So we're bridging the gaps and building care teams to help these families.

"It could be anything from babysitting to cooking a meal for these families, or helping with children who are acting out as a result of a deployed soldier," she said. "Help could come from a banker, mechanic, plumber or a good carpenter. We're just trying to raise awareness within our communities to help meet all of the needs of families on a daily basis that we sometimes overlook."

Reed said liaisons also seek help from representatives of Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, American Legions and Veterans of Foreign Wars who are interested in helping military families.

"We're also working with Veterans Affairs hospitals, addressing healthcare issues within families of our soldiers," she noted.

The parks and recreation center in Asheville has reduced the rates or waived all fees for all military families to come in and participate in their programs, Reed said.

"I've been working with families we've helped with welcome-home ceremonies and the needs of children who are experiencing the anxiety of having a deployed family person," she said, "just reaching out and sharing with them and bringing counselors to talk with them."

Other states have expressed interest in starting similar programs. "North Carolina is hoping to become the demonstration state for the country," Reed noted. "We're looking to take this to all 50 states in the upcoming year. We've already been asked to come to Alaska. We hope North Carolina will be the training center where people can come and learn more about how they can take this back to their states and communities.

"I've always been very supportive of our children, especially our military children," Reed noted. "Our children are our youth of tomorrow. It's very important that they understand what these soldiers are going through and why they're doing it. And we need to try to help them understand and become good citizens and patriots of our country."

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