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Guard supports families through deployment hardships

by Capt. Jeff Vaughan
Hospital Pharmacy Element Chief

WASHINGTON -- Families of deployed guardsmen and reservists face challenges beyond those of active-duty families, and a strong family support network stands behind them to help through those difficult days, the National Guard Bureau chief said.

"The challenges are considerable," said Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum.

For one thing, Guard and Reserve call-ups extend considerably beyond the Army's standard one-year deployment cycles, General Blum said.

"One year of boots on the ground is not one year for a National Guard Soldier," he said. "It's about 18 to 22 months of total mobilization time."

That translates to time on active-duty away from families in an intensive training mode.

"You're basically putting your life on hold for at least a year and a half," General Blum said.

That is no small sacrifice for the affected troops or the families they leave behind, he said.

And unlike active-component families, the general said guardsmen and reservists generally do not have the built-in support system that comes from living in or around a big military base with lots of other families in the same boat.

Guard and Reserve families "are spread all over the landscape," General Blum said. "They live in the communities. So when they are called up, that spouse or that family may be the only people in the whole neighborhood or in that whole apartment complex" to have their loved one deployed.

That is considerably different from big installations where "when the wing (or unit) goes, everybody who lives in that enclave feels exactly the same problem."

To help support these families, the National Guard Bureau Family Program offers a wide range of services and support ranging from family readiness groups at the unit level to a Web site that details the full range of services available to families, including points of contact.

More than 400 family assistance centers nationwide serve as the program's centerpiece. These centers, generally set up in National Guard armories, serve as "a critical link" for families during the loved ones' deployments, said Col. Anthony Baker Sr., the Guard's chief of family programs.

They serve not only Guard and Reserve families, but also families of all active-component members deployed or recently returned from a deployment.

General Blum described them as "a single-stop shopping source" for families needing information or assistance, not only during the deployment, but also before and after.

Families typically turn to the centers for information about the deployment or to find out where to go for anything -- from counseling support to financial assistance to health-care access, Colonel Baker said. Some come with questions about their family member's civilian employer or to ask how to get military identification cards.

To help broaden the centers' reach, the Guard is partnering with state and local governments, the American Red Cross, the United Services Organization and veterans service organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans and American Legion are already partners, and the Disabled American Veterans will sign on soon, Colonel Baker said.

And regardless of their needs, Colonel Baker said the Guard owes it to guardsmen to look out for their families while they are deployed.

Knowing that their families have a dependable support system at home allows guardsmen -- as well as all other servicemembers -- to concentrate on their mission rather than worrying about their families needs, Colonel Baker said.

It also has a direct effect on whether they remain in the service.

"We have a saying, 'If we sustain the family, then we retain the servicemember,'" Colonel Baker said. (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)

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