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National Guard Bureau Spotlights Family Readiness

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

PHOENIX, Arizona, Aug. 22, 2000 – National Guard families these days face the same issues as their active duty counterparts -- high optempo, frequent deployments, feelings of isolation -- and need the same command support, representatives said here.

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Staff Sgt. Trina Wycoff, New Hampshire National Guard family program coordinator, points out trends and issues affecting Guard families during at the annual National Guard Family Program Workshop in Phoenix, Ariz. The Aug. 21 workshop preceded DoD's Family Readiness Conference in Phoenix Aug. 22 to 24. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
  

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

More than 100 National Guard family program coordinators, retention office managers, volunteers and community managers met here Aug. 21 to discuss family readiness issues. Over the course of four hours, conferees looked at trends, successes, issues and possible solutions. While nine working groups convened, Dorothy J. Ogilvy-Lee, chief of the National Guard Bureau Family Program, talked with American Forces Press Service.

"Deployment brings about certain stresses," she said. "It can bring about a great deal of instability. We can fix most of that. We can prevent situations from becoming problems. That's why we have family programs."

Since the post-Cold War drawdown and the nation's increased use of its reserve components, the need for family support has changed significantly, Ogilvy-Lee said. During Desert Storm, for example, the National Guard set up 471 family assistance centers throughout the United States and served more than 257,000 family members.

"We were able to provide that hometown community support to families who did not live on base," she said. Family assistance centers were OK in 1991, but today's deployments present "a much different picture," she said.

Whole units deploy in some cases while only individual members deploy in others. Guardsmen may be away from home anywhere from two weeks up to a year, including training and overseas missions.

"If you're running a household with two parents and one is gone, the entire dynamics of that family change," Ogilvy-Lee said. The 'home-alone' spouse may be used to having someone else there to help with decisions, or even make decisions, she noted. Some mothers have a difficult time dealing with newborn babies by themselves. The absence of the parent who might be the family disciplinarian would be unsettling for the children.

"It's even more so for children of a single parent," she said. "Now they're staying with a grandmother, maybe, or an aunt, or a good friend. So it's not business as usual when a service member is deployed."

Family programs are like "preventive medicine," Ogilvy-Lee said. "We're trying to do the inoculations so families don't catch the disease. We know how to do that and we do it well, but we do need the resources and the support to do it.

In the past three years, she noted, the Army has tripled its funding for Army National Guard family programs. The Air National Guard currently is seeking more money from the Air Force.

Commanders need to be sensitive to what troops and families are going through during deployments, she said. Units that take care of their people and families are more likely to retain their members. "These deployments can be a win-win situation for everybody, if people are supported during the deployment."

When there is a family problem, supportive commanders show concern for their service members, she said. "They'll cut them a little slack when they know there's a particularly stressful situation. When the commander shows that soldier or the airman that they care about them, that's really all people want."

The same holds true for families when they know they can call spouses of other unit members or people ready to help them at the state headquarters or armory. Family program coordinators are now finding new ways to keep families in touch.

"Technology is giving us a lot more tools than we had before," Ogilvy-Lee said. "We're looking at Web-based chat rooms, telephone trees, e-mail, video teleconferencing and distance learning networks."

Other family support initiatives proposed include more youth camps, spouse programs and child care programs; developing youth exchange programs with Partnership for Peace nations; and a proposal to extend eligibility for post-deployment counseling. A National Guard Family Program Web site is nearing completion within the next few months, Ogilvy-Lee said.

The annual National Guard Family Program Workshop was a forerunner for DoD's Family Readiness Conference in Phoenix Aug. 22 to 24.

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Click photo for screen-resolution image Capt. John Riker (left), Ohio National Guard family readiness officer, and Warrant Officer Gerard J. Schwan of the North Dakota National Guard in Bismarck present findings of a group discussion at the annual National Guard Family Program Workshop in Phoenix, Ariz. The Aug. 21 workshop preceded DoD's Family Readiness Conference in Phoenix Aug. 22 to 24. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCapt. Sean Moser, North Carolina Army National Guard family program coordinator, addresses fellow conferees at the annual National Guard Family Program Workshop in Phoenix, Ariz. The Aug. 21 workshop preceded DoD's Family Readiness Conference in Phoenix Aug. 22 to 24. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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