Fort Lewis deployment fair
Kim Miller speaks to Soldiers at the ACS Financial Readiness booth of a deployment fair for 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. at American Lake Community Center, June 9. The brigade is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan later this summer.

FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Only a few weeks remain before 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan. The Army is determined to make sure their families are prepared.

"Our commitment is to the families," Brigade Commander Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV said, "to make sure every Soldier returns home safely."

Tunnell began preparing his unit for the deployment about two years ago, but said the June 9 event, organized by several Fort Lewis organizations, was beyond helpful to his Soldiers and their families.

The Fort Lewis Soldier and Family Empowerment Expo began April 16, with the focus of providing resources to Soldiers, spouses and children to empower them to be strong and self-reliant during the deployment. The event, which will run a total of 46 sessions by the end of the summer, is designed to provide each Soldier with the same information, in a controlled setting.

"That's the beauty of it," Garrison Commander Col. Cynthia Murphy said. "The event is standardized with exposure to more of the Army covenant than we ever had before."

Each expo begins with a short briefing before participants stroll into the tent area, where representatives from 42 major support activities at Fort Lewis stand ready to answer questions. Exhibitors include Military OneSource, TriCare, Chaplain Services, Pet Brigade and Family Child Care. The event is designed so participants can focus on the information they need.

"(Soldiers and families) can go through, meet all the different agencies and put a face to the program," Murphy said. "They can spend more time with the programs they're really interested in and can ask those specific questions on a more one-on-one basis."

With more than 18,000 Soldiers deploying from Fort Lewis between May and July, most units have booked a slot.

June 9 was reserved for Soldiers in 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., otherwise known as The Destroyers. Approximately 600 Soldiers, along with an undetermined number of family members, attended the two sessions.

Specialist Mtima Samuel attended the afternoon event with his wife, Yecenia, and 11-month-old son, Elijah.

"We came to make sure (my wife) has all the information she needs," Samuel said.

His wife found the event informative and said she learned a lot that she had not known prior to the expo.

Outside of the Empowerment Expo, the unit has already been looking into other ways to prepare their families. Captain Jonathan Pan is developing a family messaging system.

The system is designed to stop the rumor mill when something happens during a deployment. Family members' contact information will be uploaded into the system so when something does happen, a quick text message or e-mail will be sent.

"Once you hit the button, the message goes out instantly," Pan said. "It's a great tool every unit should have."

Tunnell said the deployment process has changed a great deal. Having tools in place like the expo and family messaging system has prepared The Destroyers and their families for their 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.

For people who were unaware of expo, Murphy said they are more than welcome to piggyback with another unit. Contact Regina Toomey at regina.toomey@us.army.mil for more information and to schedule a time.

Kelly McGrath is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16