JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – The Family Advocacy Program is taking the lead this year in the Army's campaign to give Soldiers and their families the tools they need to avoid and prevent the occurrence of intimate partner violence.
The U.S. Army Installation Management Command is making a concerted effort during Domestic Violence Awareness month to highlight their resources and strike a chord of resiliency on Army garrisons.
"We'll have a campaign this year, activated at each garrison to highlight our programs to our Soldiers and family members," said Col. Anthony Cox, director of the IMCOM Family Advocacy Program, or FAP. "Our goal is to help them capitalize on their strengths to make their domestic situation a success."
The Family Advocacy Program is a congressionally mandated program intended to prevent and reduce the occurrence of family violence and create an environment of intolerance for such behavior.
"Family advocacy is the art of bringing public awareness about family violence and prevention techniques to our Soldiers and spouses," said Novella Magwood, IMCOM family advocacy specialist and program manager for domestic violence awareness month. "We have in our program the ability to help before a situation escalates into violence."
For Soldiers and family members involved in domestic violence, early referral and intervention reduces risk, establishes safety plans and provides treatment for victims and offenders. The program manager is trained to be proactive in their efforts to provide the skills the Soldier needs most.
"We offer classes, such as anger management, financial counseling and new parent training," said Magwood. "Many times we'll get a request from the commander to go directly to the unit to conduct FAP training. This puts us in a position to meet the Soldiers and get the feedback we need to assist one-on-one."
Referrals work both ways. Family advocates work through outreach to assess a situation and refer the Soldier or couple to an Army Community Service- or chaplain-led class, or to professional licensed therapists at the on-post medical treatment facility.
"Post-traumatic stress is a problem and it can become a heavy burden on the family," said Magwood. "Soldiers are encouraged to seek out help through their chain of command, but many times we see it in family advocacy first. We are an extra pair of eyes that can steer a Soldier in the right direction for the help they need."
Family advocacy works best when the Soldiers or family members come to the counselors early -- before things get out of hand, and the police or command has to get involved. Programs include home visits, couples communication and/or parenting classes, anger management, parent support, child classes and education.
The Chaplain Family Life Centers and Family Advocacy treatment providers at the on-post medical treatment facilities offer marital and family therapy. These voluntary programs are designed to help the families cope with stress, isolation, deployment issues and parenthood.
"One of our best customers is the expectant mother before she gives birth," said Magwood. "This is the time to get her and the father into a class together and teach them what they will face when baby comes home. Through the New Parent Support Program, often we can help set the mood and the tempo in the home and really engage the father in the parenting process."
"I remember when I was first married and, frankly, we had the usual growing pains," said Cox. "We actually did some counseling and learned to identify our own differences in communication. We realized that often tears or words spoken in frustration don't need to be taken personally. This type of counseling helped me and my wife early in our marriage."
Two issues that often contribute to domestic violence is finances and communication. For example, a young Soldier who has just PCS'd to their new permanent assignment can get into financial trouble quickly.
"They're young and maybe have money in their account for the first time in their lives. The temptation to spend on recreation or vanity items is too great for many," said Magwood. "If the couple is not communicating directly about managing money and credit cards, often the discussion turns to shouting. We can teach how to prioritize the money and find ways to save."
One major barrier to effective communication is when frustration turns to anger and anger, which may lead to domestic violence. The Parenting and Healthy Marriage Program utilizes the ScreamFree Parenting and Marriage classes and training to provide education and awareness on effective parenting strategies, enhancing interpersonal relationships within the family and anxiety and stress reduction.
"ScreamFree training is designed to help identify the triggers for elevated communication failures," said Magwood. "ScreamFree helps make better parents and healthier couples. We've received such positive feedback that we are expanding the classes to include teenagers."
Whether a Soldier asks first, or the commander instigates the contact, family advocacy is a stigma-free zone.
"No one is judged here because we are here to help," said Magwood. "All I want is for that family to be successful. We can be the glue that helps get a family together to figure it all out."
"Soldiers fear that others will think badly of them or that their commander will take action against them," said Cox. "In fact, the biggest stigma is seeing themselves as broken or damaged. Sometimes it takes a buddy to tell us 'you guys are having problems and need to get help.' If you hear that from your buddy, my advice is to go see the chaplain or go to ACS to get the help you need."
The nation's support for this campaign starts in the hollows and plains and rises to the top of the hill.
"In our military families, we see the best our country has to offer," said President Barack Obama. "They demonstrate the virtues that have made America great for more than two centuries and the values that will preserve our greatness for centuries to come."