Eight test sites have/will be chosen for this pilot program. Read more after the jump and then please share your thoughts.
Just as every community has a post office, it should also have a center that supports troops and their families, said the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz Jr., who suggested that such facilities could even be located in places like local Wal-Marts.
A pilot program at eight sites will test the idea, said Stultz's wife, Laura, as the two discussed the concept at a family forum Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army.
The idea is to support those who live far from other military families and from installations, Laura Stultz said, adding that she is seeing more families that feel overworked and overextended, with many burned out from trying to juggle their own schedules and their volunteer work helping other families.
The Stultzes have been working on ways to help connect geographically dispersed families with the resources they need, she said. They are also working on a Web-based component.
It's not just National Guard and Reserve members who don't live on or near installations with their various support services, the Army Reserve chief said. Relocated family members - such as spouses who have moved closer to their relatives - often walk into Army Reserve headquarters and say they are having trouble getting medical care for their children because they are in a different region than the active-duty installation where their deployed service member is stationed, he said.
The locations for the eight test sites are Franklin, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Whitefish, Mont.; Jackson, Miss.; Laredo, Texas; Brevard, N.C.; and sites in Oregon and Utah that have not yet been chosen. Four of the sites are urban and four are rural.
"The pilot [program] will enable us to get future centers right," Laura Stultz said.
She said all the programs will be set up differently, depending on the needs of each community. For example, one will have a community support coordinator in a mall, another in a Reserve center, another in a government agency.
"My husband and I would like to see the Army Reserve working with the community through volunteers in the community," she said.
There will be family program staff working in these centers, she said, as well as volunteers from groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and faith-based organizations who could be trained to work there.
These partnerships "will provide a further level of comfort to our soldiers and their families that they are leaving behind," she said. "My husband and I are committed to working jointly to see that Reserve and National Guard families no longer think they are forgotten."
"Every community ought to have a soldier support center," said Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve.
At the start of the second military family forum of Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting, "Strengthening Soldiers and Families through Community Partnerships," Stultz emphasized the importance of the Army's covenants with families and communities. He said that the support network for geographically dispersed soldiers and their families, who do not reside around military installations, must be both nationwide and virtual or web-based.
"We're seeing a growing number of Reserve families that are overworked and over-stressed," Stultz's wife, Laura, said at the Oct. 7 event.
She said that the Army is working on ways to connect geographically dispersed families as well as engaging communities with their resident soldiers on a more personal level. Pilot support programs for geographically dispersed families are being tested in eight states - Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Oregon and Utah.
"My husband and I are committed to showing Army Reserve and National Guard families that they are not forgotten," Laura Stultz said.
Erin Thede from the Soldier Family Support and Services Division discussed the Yellow Ribbon Program, which originated in Minnesota.
"We spend a lot of time training citizen soldiers to become soldiers,"
Thede said, "but we don't spend enough time reintegrating soldiers back into their civilian lives."
The Yellow Ribbon Program prepares soldiers and their families for deployment, assists families during their soldiers' deployment and then helps families prepare for the soldiers' return. The person who comes home may be a very different person than the soldier they who went away, Thede said.
Col. Scotty Grigsby, Army Reserve Warrior and Family Assistance Center Director, said that the center's mission is to advocate for Reserve soldiers, families and retirees. Its motto is "Whatever It Takes" and Grigsby said that the center operates like a Military One Source within the Reserve. He described the one-on-one support relationship the center provides for wounded Reserve soldiers as an example of the center's efforts on behalf of individual soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Craig B. Whelden, USA, Ret., spoke about the need to reengage American communities with their soldiers. He said that 99.7 percent of Americans today do not serve in the military and often do not know how to reach out to those who do.
The Army Community Covenant, inaugurated in April 2008, is intended to reconnect communities and soldiers through covenant signing ceremonies and by sharing community "best practices." Since last April, Whelden said that 65 communities have held community covenant ceremonies and that at least 21 more are scheduled before the end of the year. The Best Practices section of the Army Community Covenant Web site, www.communitycovenant.army.mil, provides information about 1,500 community-based initiatives to support the military.
Two national initiatives Whelden highlighted were the Interstate Compact on Education Opportunity for Military Children that makes changing schools easier for military children as they move from state to state and In-State Tuition that allows a student to continue to pay the in-state tuition rate, even if his or her military parent is relocated out-of-state.
"We can't forget that our soldiers are volunteers, and our families are volunteers, too, "said Secretary of the Army Pete M. Geren in brief remarks. He presented the 2008 Army Family Covenant Quality of Life Awards to eight award winners (http://www.army.mil/-newsreleases/2008/10/06/13096-army-to-recognize-quality-of-life-achievement/).
He also conferred the 2008 Army Meritorious Civilian Award to Whelden for his successful implementation of the Army Community Covenant.
Maj. Gen. John A. MacDonald concluded the forum and reminded the audience, which included many Family Readiness Group leaders, to consult the AUSA Web site, www.ausa.org, for more information about family and community resources and support.