The family challenge -- Battalion launches program to prepare families for military life
February 21, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Basic Combat Training just got a lot more interesting for one Fort Jackson battalion.
The families of Soldiers taking part in training with the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, now have access to a course titled, "Basic Training for Families." The course connects spouses and family members with Soldiers in BCT through the Army Family Team Building initiative.
"I had concerns about the type of spouses we were creating," said Tina Justice, leader of the battalion's Family Readiness Group. "We weren't really teaching them to be self-reliant, empowered spouses. It's very overwhelming when you first enter the Army life. The goal was to create a system to help families when they have questions, and give them the tools to do the work, themselves."
AFTB is a series of training modules taught through an installation's Army Community Service or Family Program office that covers basic information about the Army, personal growth and leadership skills.
Justice said the original concept was to find a method of getting families better involved with their Soldier's training program. While Soldiers are learning to become Soldiers, families often wait until after graduation to try and catch up with them.
"This idea came about because Soldiers get 10 weeks of basic training, and we should provide families 10 weeks of basic training," Justice said. "I started to do some research to see what is available."
Ideas that required additional spending would likely not get very far, she said, so she began to investigate the possibility of using AFTB as a surrogate program. Like BCT, the course is divided into 10 weeklong courses, and is designed to offer the skills Army spouses require.
The Basic Training for Families pilot program wrapped up several weeks ago, with the next set to begin Feb. 21. Justice said she had hoped to get 100 people to earn completion certificates. In the end, more than 1,000 completed AFTB levels 1, 2 and 3, she said.
"A lot of the basic training battalions have been trying to figure out ways to get the families involved," said Elizabeth Maher, Army Community Services outreach coordinator. "They've been using Facebook to do that. Typically, what they do is (help) them through basic training. Tina thought we had a really unique opportunity to reach out to basic training families and empower them with information that's going to set them up for their entire career."
People taking part in Basic Training for Families are given the Family Survival Guide, a document created on post that covers the fundamentals of BCT. The book covers the information that is routinely asked on Facebook, such as graduation dates, addresses and visitation privileges.
These questions get asked and answered so often, Justice said, that they detract from the level of service that should be provided to families online.
"They were the same questions over and over," Maher said. "You expect basic training for Soldiers to be disciplined, so we're going to expect basic training for families to be disciplined. If you don't follow the instructions, we're not going to respond. You have to teach them how to get the information they need to be successful."
"We built in little competitions along the way to encourage them to do the training," Justice said. "There are 10 lessons. For each module I'd put two questions on the Facebook page that came directly from their lessons. The first person to answer it correctly would get a picture of his or her Soldier posted to the Facebook page."
A company competition resulted in "battle buddy" photos of an entire company being posted to Facebook. These rewards made a big difference in participation, she said.
"The first time, people don't read a lot of the information," she said. "Some read all of it, but others read as they went. After that first picture hit, there was a lot more interest."
The first weekend, 100 AFTB certificates were awarded, she said. And then participants started to forge ahead on their own.
"I had people send me their AFTB 1 certificates and ask if they could (continue with) AFTB 2 and 3, which was amazing," she said.
Certificates are awarded on Family Day to families who complete the program. They also receive a "My First Duty Station" binder containing information to help families take their first steps in military life.
AFTB is offered at all installations and is available to everyone, Maher said. The program is not especially active, though. She said nobody has taken the course at Fort Hood, Texas during the last six months.
Fort Jackson's ACS office is not equipped to offer the program to anyone besides the families of cadre, she said. Which is why the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment Family Readiness Group is managing the program at the battalion level.
Regardless, Justice said it's likely the program will expand to other battalions on post.
"We have several battalions that are interested, and (Maher) and I are going to do some training with them," Justice said. "I'd be willing to share my information with whoever asks for it. The great thing about the program is that the tools are already there. You don't have to create anything; you just have to plug the right things in. And it costs no training dollars."
The FRG is already testing the waters by introducing new military families to the Family Global Assessment Tool, which is available for ID-card holding dependents.
"We encourage them to do that when their Soldiers are at Advanced Individual Training," Justice said, though it is not yet a formal part of the Basic Training for Families program.
"I would love to see one of our AIT (units) at Fort Jackson pilot the second part of it," she said. "The goal was to inundate them with information, so it's not so overwhelming at their first duty station."