WINCHESTER, Va. – Family Readiness Groups help families meet the challenges of military life and serve an important role for any military organization, including the Middle East District.
District Commander Col. Jon Christensen is committed to ensuring his district is actively involved in family readiness. That has not always been the case for organizations mostly comprised of civilians and geographically separated from a military base.
Laura Anderson, who assumed the role of the district's family readiness coordinator in January, said that family readiness services are available even though families don't always need the help. "But when they do need it, we are there for them," she said. "In the past, the mentality was often that civilians simply didn't need the same level of support as uniformed service members. But many of these civilians are deploying into the same contingency environments and experiencing many of the same things our Soldiers do."
The Family Readiness Program, comprised of family readiness and deployee support, is available to assist all team members and their families, whether employees are deployed, serving in one of the many field offices throughout the district's area of operations, or sitting in the cubicle the next row over.
Anderson works closely with the district's Deployment Support Group, which assigns a group volunteer to each deployed employee. That volunteer works to help keep deployee morale high through regular correspondence and care packages, and helps families with questions or concerns. The DSG, chaired by Gail Wiatr, is open to all district employees.
According to the Regional Family Readiness Coordinator for the Transatlantic Division CJ Muncy, who established the division program in 2009, "Whatever employees need to stay ready and able to perform the mission, we are there for them. I work directly with Laura to make sure the Family Readiness Program is robust and that we are there for anybody – definitely not a resource only for deployees," she said.
"We are like a mini Army Community Service, helping employees and families with assistance, whether medical, emotional, or financial, to name just a few," Muncy said. "We do a little of everything. For instance, we have found hospice care, done survivor outreach and even located summer camp options for children of deployees. If an employee has a child with special needs, we can connect that employee to resources within the community that may help. We can point employees and family members to available services here and at various nearby military bases. In the event of medical emergencies, whether the employee or family member, we can contact resources and get needed support started."
"In the tactical Army, family support groups serve as the link between families and Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Russell Sears, deputy commander. "They are also the local support system for those who are living far from their immediate families.
"Many Middle East District employees have that family support network available nearby and may not feel their families need to participate in a work-related activity," he said. "We have many employees who have deployed a few times or have spent much time overseas who may not feel the need to have a support system in place for their spouses and families. However, as a former military spouse who was left behind when my wife deployed, I can tell you there is great comfort in knowing who to call if there's an emergency and knowing that even if you can't contact your spouse directly, it can be done.
"The Family Readiness Program provides that link and can ensure that an emergency message gets from home to a construction site in Afghanistan or anywhere else in our area of responsibility," Sears said.
The family readiness coordinator takes a total-package approach when employees prepare to deploy and continues with the family members they are leaving behind. Anderson reaches out to deployees again before they return to make sure they are aware of resources and support available to them and their families. She also helps facilitate any needs they may have; whether preparing a power of attorney or finding a counselor for a child dealing with the parent's departure, family readiness can assist.
"We want deployees and their families to understand that even though a family member is away, they are not alone. They are still a part of our district family and still welcome at our events. We are here to help them maintain their quality of life while their family member is deployed," Anderson said. "The family support continues throughout the deployment and continues after they return, providing resources to those facing issues or difficulties reconnecting with their families or work environment."
"Family readiness services are available everywhere," Muncy said. "All USACE divisions, districts, and centers have assigned family readiness coordinator responsibilities. All are accessible via email and through the Global directory can be found under 'family readiness.' The Transatlantic Division is TAD. FamilyReadiness@usace.army.mil and the district's is TAM.FamilyReadiness@ usace.army.mil." (Erick Barnes contributed to this story.)