Helping Foreign Spouses Cope with Reservists' Deployments
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, July 2, 1996 "Why did you send my daddy away just before Christmas?" the little girl asked the general.
Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Roger L. Brautigan was momentarily taken aback. The girl's father, a civilian working in Italy, was called to active duty with his Army reserve unit to help with Operation Joint Endeavor, the Bosnian peacekeeping mission.
"The general was attending a family support group meeting in Italy when the little girl, backed up by her mother, asked him that question," recalled Capt. Becky Upton of Brautigan's 7th Army Reserve Command in Schwetzingen, Germany. "It was difficult for the general to answer, because in the family's eyes, he had said, 'Soldier, you go to Bosnia, and I want you to go before Christmas.' Trying to explain why that's not the way it works is difficult, especially through a translator."
Brautigan gave the little girl a compassionate answer. "Unfortunately, your father couldn't be with you for Christmas, but when you're a soldier, you don't have the luxury of determining when you need to respond to calls to active duty," Brautigan said during an interview. "When he comes back, tell him you have to celebrate Christmas twice next year and he has to buy you twice as many presents."
That defused the situation. "Everybody laughed -- the little girl, her family and other family members attending," said Brautigan, a retired science teacher and football and track coach from Stockton, Calif.
The 7th Army Reserve Command's 22 units and more than 900 members provide support for U.S. Army, Europe.
The girl's father was among about 300 citizen soldiers activated for a Joint Endeavor rotation. Another 200 reservists have been called to duty to replace those returning after completing their 270-day missions.
Taking care of reservists' families is one of Brautigan's top priorities, particularly when they're deployed, said Upton, who was also called to active duty for Operation Joint Endeavor. In civilian life, she works for the Army in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
"Gen. Brautigan established a special staff section strictly for family readiness," said Upton. "My full-time job on active duty is family readiness. Our primary mission is to support the families through detachment commanders, family support groups and training classes."
Brautigan said family readiness and support are important for reservists for the same reasons they're important for active duty personnel. "Soldiers, reservists and active duty, need to know their families have a sound support mechanism to take care of their needs while the soldiers are gone," he said. "That frees them to focus on the mission and not have to worry about what's happening to their families."
Foreign language and culture, a lack of knowledge about how the U.S. military works, and long travel distances to weekend drills are a few of the problems reservists, their families and family support coordinators deal with in Europe, Upton said.
"We have soldiers who live from Czechoslovakia to England to Italy to Belgium and individual mobilization augmentees widely scattered from Denmark to Saudi Arabia," Upton said. "We have a nurse who flies to Germany for drill weekends from England and a doctor who flies from Greece.
Brautigan constantly promotes family readiness and support, Upton said.
"He's concerned that some local national spouses have no idea of how the American military works," Upton said. "They were surprised when the soldiers were activated for the Bosnian mission. The deployment created a radical changes in their lives.
Local national spouses living in Germany and Italy have an easier time getting assistance because of all the U.S. military installations in those countries, Upton noted.
"It takes a lot of thought and effort to ensure all the families are supported, because they're so diverse," she said. "Even practical things like leave and earnings statements are sometimes difficult because they're written in English. Not everyone speaks English in the world of Europe, so we have to translate them into other languages."
However, she said local national spouses often have their own support structure -- mother, fathers, sisters, brothers and other family -- that has nothing to do with the U.S. military. "That gives them a certain amount of autonomy that spouses of regular active duty soldiers stationed overseas sometimes don't have," she said.
"Americans who work for DoD and other U.S. government agencies, U.S. companies doing business overseas and foreign firms are members of the command," Upton noted.