Division West's first lady pledges FRG support to brigades at Fort Bliss
May 21, 2013
FORT BLISS, Texas -- For 30 years, Sylvia Phipps and husband Maj. Gen. Warren E. Phipps, Jr., Division West commanding general, have supported Soldiers and their Families.
During those years, the couple moved 19 times, and yet wherever they go, Sylvia said they stress the importance of taking care of Families and Soldiers as one unit so everyone is prepared to face challenges that come with military life.
"We do value families. And that's not just 'standard speak' from a general officer. This is something near and dear to Warren and me, she said. "We are actively involved in family programs and do whatever we can to ensure that family support filters down to everyone in our formation.
True to her word, Phipps traveled to here May 1 to meet with leaders' spouses and Family Readiness Group representatives from Division West's 402nd Field Artillery and 5th Armored Brigades.
This was her first meeting here since the general took command of Division West in January, but Phipps said it certainly won't be her last.
"I want to personally let you all know that Warren and I appreciate everything you do. Volunteering at FRG events and in your communities, even the littlest things you do, make a difference," she told the group who met her for lunch. "I'm here to hear your ideas and get feedback so I can help you build your family support programs."
She added, that to recognize the selfless efforts of Soldiers and their Families who volunteer for FRG and community events, Division West will now present Outstanding Volunteer Awards quarterly.
"Whatever the mission is, and to ensure its success, the focus has to be on the families," she said. "It's not just about deployments. Taking care of Soldiers and their families is everyday life in the Army."
It wasn't always that way, according to Phipps. She has been involved in family support programs since her husband entered the Army, and has seen a change for the better ever since.
"I'm amazed at how much the Army's attitude toward Soldiers and their Families has evolved," she said. "Early on, FRG was more like a coffee clutch. We'd meet with the new wives to pass on unit information and maintain our phone roster. We would joke how the Army designated us as 'dependents' and treated us as 'government issued.' Now it's evident the Army truly recognizes the value of supporting the families."
As the 402nd's commander, Col. Carolyn Birchfield expressed her intent to grow the FRG relationship throughout the brigade.
"It is such an important support system for Soldiers and their Families. It provides an opportunity for everyone to enjoy fellowship and get to know each other outside of work," she said. "Soldiers need to know their Families are taken care of so they can focus on the mission."
Denise M. Wagner, spouse of Lt. Col. Robert Wagner, deputy commander of the 402nd, said she agreed the brigade's unique mission and structure make FRG a critical requirement.
"We may not have Soldiers deploying, but we do have many mobilized reservists who are far from their support network at home. We have many Soldiers whose Families are not here with them," she said. "FRG helps fill that void. It creates a sense of belonging and family bond. The Soldiers know that whatever their particular situation, the unit cares about them."
Family is exactly what her battalion is all about, according to Allison Jones, spouse of Lt. Col. Kenneth Jones, commander, 2nd Battalion, 362nd Field Artillery Regiment, 402nd Field Artillery Brigade.
"Our mission is demanding. Kenneth describes it as being like a deployment except that the Soldiers sleep in their own bed at night," she said. "But despite such hectic schedules, everyone supports our FRG and each other. We are like one big family. Anytime we ask for volunteers, we have such a good turnout and they always bring out the entire family to help."
Kristin Driben, spouse of Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Driben, 1st Battalion, 361st Engineer Regiment, 5th Armored Brigade, knows first-hand how FRG supports Soldiers and their Families.
"I'm newly married, totally new to life in the military, and new to El Paso," Driben said. "The ladies in the FRG reached out to me and made me feel welcome. They have been helping me understand all things Army and getting me out in the community. I look forward to being active in FRG and helping others."