Family Support Groups Honored

By Doug Sample

The Defense Department this month recognized what one official called a "key component" to mission readiness that greatly enhanced the deployability of Guard and Reserve forces.

However, it’s not a new weapons program. Rather, it’s a group of people whose support for the military on the home front contributes to mission readiness.

The 2004 Reserve Family Readiness Awards were handed out Friday at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes to seven organizations for their efforts supporting deployed Guard and Reserve units.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas F. Hall, who hosted the event, noted that 178,000 Guardsmen and reservists are mobilized now, and more than 470,000 have been mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001. Hall said the military could not have achieved that feat without the help and support of family readiness groups throughout the services.

"It’s not just those who are mobilized, but those who are doing the support day in and day out that we don’t always see that help make this program so wonderful."

That support comes from people like Marianne Breland, a family program coordinator with the Air National Guard’s 172nd Airlift Wing in Jackson, Miss., one of the groups recognized.

Breland has seen her husband, Randy, deploy twice in recent years. The 172nd has about 50 of its members currently deployed, some of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the leader of one of the largest family readiness groups in the Air National Guard, Breland works with hundreds of families to help them resolve problems at home during military deployments.

She said one of the problems that spouses face the most is the stress of "having to deal with issues they’re not normally faced with."

"Just the everyday things that I now had to take care of," she explained. "Taking care of home problems, car problems, a lot of times spouses are not prepared for all the extra weight they have to handle when their loved one is deployed."

Recalling her personal situation, having three children, two of them teenagers, Breland said family readiness groups have been helpful throughout her military experience and that the groups have become and important asset for military families.

"There were people who wanted to reach out to help me while my husband was deployed, but the ones that helped me the most were the spouses and families of those who knew exactly what I was going through," she said.

She said that many problems her group deals with are financial, because spouses often leave civilian jobs that pay much more than their military salaries when activated. In addition, she said, children of deployed servicemembers have to deal with anxiety.

"Each deployment causes more hardship on families," she said. "When my husband deployed for the first time, my son sort of ‘stepped up to the plate,’ excelled in school, did a really good job," she explained. "This second deployment has been more for him to handle, and he’s had a lot more problems to deal with emotionally."

Katrina Foreman, a volunteer coordinator with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, whose husband, a Marine sergeant, is serving in Iraq, said it has also been difficult with her husband away. However, she said, programs the military has in place to help families has made it "easier this time around."

"The military has now decided that families are just as important, so they’ve put programs like this in place to help relieve some of the stress," she said.

Houston pointed out that many people think family readiness groups are "just about making sandwiches for the Family Day." But it’s much more than that, she said.

Foreman, a London native, said she got involved with her family readiness group because when she came to America, "I fell in love with the country and I fell in love with the military," she said. In fact, Houston recently joined the Naval Reserve as a religious program specialist.

"The Reserves are very special group of people, and I want the country to know just how much the Reserves do for this country," she said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, during an emotional talk at the ceremony, said the gratitude Congress has for military families cannot be overstated.

"We stand here stronger because of sacrifice, rather than weaker," he said. "And we will stand by all of you. I could not be more grateful for the contribution you all make."

Family readiness groups recognized were:

  • Company A, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (Air Assault), Iowa Army National Guard, Carrol, Iowa.
  • 652nd Engineer Company, U.S. Army Reserve, Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
  • Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 7, U.S. Naval Reserve, Great Lakes, Ill.
  • 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Houston.
  • 172nd Airlift Wing, Mississippi Air National Guard, Jackson, Mississippi.
  • 452nd Mission Support Group, U.S. Air Force Reserve, March Air Reserve Base, California.
  • Port Security Unit 307, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, St. Petersburg, Florida.