by Emily Stahl
You’d never know from the smiles on these women’s faces that their
husbands—infantry soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division—are thousands
of miles away enduring a yearlong deployment in Iraq. On this
particular day in early December,
the wives of C Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry, have assembled for their monthly Family Readiness Group (FRG) meeting. The playful chaos of laughing children fills the background as group leader Kelly Terenas disseminates the latest news about our soldiers.
No, that’s not a typo. I meant to say “our” soldiers. I’m at this meeting not only as a reporter who needs to ask a few questions, but I’m also in need of support—the kind of support that can only come from other army wives who know exactly what I’m going through. My husband is over there too.
The day I watched the soldiers get on a bus, my mom reminded me, “If your grandmother could do it with three kids, then you can do it too.” As a command sergeant major in an army artillery unit, my grandfather dealt with multiple deployments during which my grandmother did not have access to the support of an FRG.
The relatively new concept of FRG is a direct result of the Operation Urgent Fury and Operation Just Cause experiences during the 1980s. Deployed units discovered that while their training was extensive, the Army had not properly prepared them and their families to deal with the unique stresses of deployment. Thus the FRG was created to help better prepare families to take care of themselves during extended absences of their soldiers.
According to the deployment handbook, FRG is an organization of family members, volunteers and soldiers to provide mutual support, assistance and communication. “Basically we are a conduit,” says Monica O’Brien, the squadron FRG advisor for 1-33 Cav. “We have phone trees, and we pass along information about what is going on with the installation.”
Having a direct link through FRG can be very comforting to family members who would otherwise have to rely on the local news for information concerning their soldiers.
“Actually the FRG meetings came in handy [during the last deployment], because that’s actually where we got our updates,” Terenas says. “This time there’s emails, there’s phone calls, there’s instant messaging—stuff like that—but last time there wasn’t, there wasn’t at all.”
Each company, made up of about 150 soldiers, has its own FRG open to all family members. Generally, the groups meet about once a month, not only during the soldiers’ absence, but also when they return home.
“How frequently the meetings happen is really dictated by the Family Readiness Group regulations,” O’Brien says. “Here at Fort Campbell, the regulations do say we should be holding a monthly meeting, but ultimately it’s the commander’s call.”
Mostly spouses are the ones attending, O’Brien explains, but it’s open to the single soldiers as well.
“I like the FRG. I think it helps,” says Corley Hudson, one of the wives attending 1-33 Cav.’s meeting. She feels there are certain aspects of deployment to which only other spouses can relate. “When a wife says she understands, she truly understands. And she understands in a way that a mother or another family member could not possibly understand,” Hudson says.
Members attend meetings for the moral support they need, and they also participate in volunteer events that help other military families experiencing the strain of a soldier’s absence.
“There’s a lot of fundraisers that go on,” O’Brien says, “you know, bake sales, maybe car washes, selling food out in front of the companies, cooking breakfast for the soldiers…and they usually plan company parties, things of that nature when the guys are home.”
When situations arise in which a family member’s needs exceed the scope of the FRG, group leaders take responsibility to find them the help they need.
“If somebody’s having problems, hopefully they are calling their point of contact in their phone tree,” O’Brien says. “Then that point of contact is supposed to refer them out to the proper agency they think could get them help.”
The first Saturday of every month, respite care is usually available for parents who need time to run errands or a chance to do something for themselves.
“The ladies can drop off their children—depending on their age, they will drop them in different places—but it’s usually from 12 to 5, and it’s free childcare,” O’Brien says. “They call it Super Saturday, and I’m assuming they’re going to keep it going into the next year.”
FRG can also help direct parents to other resources for childcare.
“Personally, I think the FRG is good, especially with kids,” member Laura Mayfield says. “It’s good for the kids to be around each other.”
Terenas agrees, saying that with the kids being the same age, they can help each other to cope with the situation.
“They both just kind of sit there and say, ‘Oh, my daddy’s gone,’ ‘Yeah, my daddy’s gone too.’ They give each other a hug, and then of course they get over it, but they can really relate to one another.”
To find a Family Readiness Group in your area, call Family Assistance Coordinator Billy Blankenship at 355-7140. In an emergency, call Col. (R) Billy Wynns at 355-3971.