FRGs: The Ups and the Downs


You might be married, engaged or in love with a soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine or Coastie. Regardless of your associated branch of service or your exact marital status, you dear reader, are “married” to the military and chances are good that you have some form or fashion of a family support group available to you.

Newbies, take note. Just to keep things confusing for you, every branch of service calls theirs something different.

In the Army it is known as the Soldier & Family Readiness Group (SFRG). The Air Force has its Key Spouse Program while the Navy sports an Ombudsman Program. The Marine Corps uses a Family Readiness Program and those in Coast Guard turn to the Work-Life Program.

This is important to know because you may be an Air Force spouse stationed on an Army installation or a Navy Spouse stationed within a joint command environment. In our ever-growing “purple communities,” it pays to know the branch-specific names for those support services that are available to you, regardless of your service affiliation.

We can always hope that the powers that be eventually call them all the same thing, but don’t expect that anytime soon.

Whatever you call your support group, its purpose is clear. It is there to provide you and yours with genuine family support, which in turn facilitates mission readiness.

It is designed, in theory, to be a win-win accommodation for everyone.

Sometimes, however, win-win doesn’t happen. Just ask Kristie Williams, an Air Force spouse stationed in Texas who writes:

I should probably just go down to the Airman and Family Readiness Center but what has been done in the past when a base’s [family support group] is not very active? I attended a meeting back in May and there hasn't been one since nor any communication. I just don't think it is right that there are spouses out there who want to be a part of this and they aren't doing anything. Any recommendations? I want to make a difference and help others but I don't want to overstep my boundaries. Please help.

Sadly, Kristie isn’t the only one who has run into this situation before.

There may be a number of potential reasons in this particular case but one thing seems clear. There has been a definite breakdown of communication and it is negatively affecting at least one spouse. Chances are good, that others are also affected.

Any family support group anywhere is only as active as the people who run them or participate in them. The more active ones seem to have the added infusion of strong command support. Like any organization, however, there may be a certain ebb and flow of activities depending upon what the unit is experiencing and who is around to make things happen.

Maybe this support group, like others, is suffering the slings and arrows of the summer PCS season. People come. People go. The good work that they did doesn’t always continue in their absence.

Maybe Kristie’s contact information was incorrectly transposed somewhere along the way. A typo here or there can wreak havoc on your credit report or the official phone tree.

Support from the command leadership might be lacking.

Or maybe volunteer burnout, hardly uncommon in today’s reality of back-to-back deployments, is the reason.

Whatever the cause, one thing is certain. When basic communication breaks down, it is a serious offense. It sabotages the intended purpose of the group in the first place by creating an environment of unreliability and perhaps even distrust on a certain level.

In short, it is a situation that should be changed and changed fast. Regardless of your branch of service, your spouse’s rank or what your daily horoscope says, using the chain of command is a good starting point.

"There is always an avenue to pursue with the ‘Chain of Command.’” Of course, we always encourage the person to start at the lowest level and then elevate it up from there,” said John Rose, a supervisory readiness consultant at the Ramstein Airmen and Family Readiness Center in Germany.

“If it's a true concern that needs [to be] resolved it will eventually be dealt with and an answer will be provided. I can't say it will always be the answer they want but they will get a legitimate answer," said Rose.

In addition to running her inquiry up the chain, Kristie could also take on a more active role. She has already expressed a desire to help others and make a difference. This might be her opportunity to do just that. She already knows of a real problem and she could offer a potential solution.

For example, lack of communication since May could suggest a need for someone to compose and email monthly updates to all the members.

In Kristie’s case, she not only emailed the leader of the group to find out why, but she also had a meaningful conversation with her about the group itself.

“I think there may be changes and I may be taking on a role,” she said.

Now that sounds like a positive change in the making.

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