Web site helps Guard and Reserve families deal with deployments

Families of Guard and Reserve members will soon be able to obtain quality-of-life support information over the Internet to resolve issues while sponsors are away. A family readiness tool kit will become available Oct. 1 on the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Web page at www.defenselink.mil/ra. Army Col. Jim Scott, program manager for the National Guard and Reserve Family Readiness Strategic Plan, said information in the tool kit is for service members and their families, commanders and family support groups. The five-year strategic plan, implemented in March 2000, contains quality-of-life initiatives that help family members and commanders prepare for deployments, he said. Later this month, Scott said, Guard and Reserve family support organizations will be able to post deployment training information to a family readiness calendar at the same Web address. An August 2000 survey of reserve component spouses showed that those having the most difficulties during deployments "were the young families with young children" that hadn't experienced deployments before, Scott said. "Unit or mission readiness is intrinsically linked to family readiness," he said. "We're trying to encourage commanders and unit leaders to work with new members of the units to educate and assist them in preparing for that first deployment. "The tool kit is going to be a resource for commanders and unit leaders and family members to pick the tools that they think will be most useful for their particular situation." For families, the tool kit lists Web sites and toll-free numbers for medical and pay assistance, financial management tips and other information, Scott said. The site will also contain a sample checklist that describes tasks families should accomplish before sponsors deploy. A kit supplement, called a "help guide," contains examples of best practices that have been used by commanders to prepare families for deployments, Scott said. Included are examples of how to create mission fact sheets, press releases, newsletters, and automated family member information databases. "The spreadsheet format compiles basic data on each member of the unit. It can be used to monitor and update family-member information," he said. Data include the number of children, where families live, and the existence of deployment family plans. The reserve components make up half of the total force. In the past decade, Guard and Reserve members have been increasingly called up to serve with active duty troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and other military operations in support of U.S. security interests. Service officials note that 54 percent of today's 1.3 million Guard and Reserve members are married and 34 percent have children. Scott said quality of life issues affecting Guard and Reserve families during deployments can impact military morale, mission accomplishment and retention. "If the family member has a problem that can't be resolved while the service member is deployed, and if it is significant or severe enough, it is going to cause the service member to be sent back home on emergency leave or, at the very best, get involved in solving the problem back home." Family crises affect active and reserve service members' ability to serve the unit and perform the mission, Scott noted. But most active duty families live on or near military bases or are just a few miles away from support facilities, while about 24 percent of reserve component members live up to 50 miles away from their units, according to Defense Department documents. Many other reservists serve in units hundreds of miles from their homes, Scott added. When a family lives far from the service member's unit, "it is difficult...to get up-to-date information and understand exactly what is going on with their service member," Scott said. "We want to help prepare them in advance to be self-sustaining while their service members deploy." When family members need support or information from the military, they need someone close at hand to turn to, Scott said. "That's one of the reasons we're asking commanders and other leaders to use the Internet, telephone, teleconferencing--any tool that they might have available at their facility in order to better communicate with families," he concluded.
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