Corps Family Readiness Network emerges in Jacksonville District
Dr. Julie Pantano, an avid member of Army Family Readiness Groups and wife of Col. Alfred Pantano, Jacksonville District commander, addresses participants at a family readiness network steering committee meeting. "The core principles of family readiness groups are good. What we must decide is how are we going to take what we know really works for Army Families, and use that as a model for our network here," she said.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) asks its civilian work force to serve in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), Jacksonville District personnel repeatedly answer the call. Since 2003, there have been 165 civilian personnel deployments in support of OCO; since 2002, there have been 1,510 deployments in support of natural disasters, according to ENGLink statistics.

With deployment, many more civilian employees and their families are wondering, "What supportive services and resources are available for me and my family, before, during and after my deployment'"

To answer such questions and make sure personnel and families remain properly sustained throughout the deployment cycle, Corps headquarters has provided guidance, funding and a mandate to grow "a USACE community, empowered, sustained and unified by informed and resilient Families in support of the nation's engineering challenges."

Army Family Readiness Groups (FRG) began as a grassroots movement spearheaded by military spouses. Recognizing the value of such groups, the Army made FRGs a requirement for all units. Through these groups, spouses and Service Members found fellowship, friendship and access to vital resources. With a view to providing similar benefits for Civilians and their Families in support of Corps missions, Jacksonville District is developing a family readiness network, crafted to meet the unique needs and demands of Civilians and their loved ones.

FRGs seek to be a source of social support, morale building and friendship, demonstrating that we are a group of cohesive individuals dedicated to achieving mutual goals, said Kim Brooks-Hall, Jacksonville District's chief of staff.
Some wonder how a group started by Army spouses for Army Families could have useful applications for Civilians. Even Dr. Julie Pantano, an avid member of Army FRG and wife of Col. Alfred Pantano, Jacksonville District commander, asked herself that question a couple of years ago at a meeting where Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, chief of engineers, and his wife Paula shared their vision for FRG throughout USACE. What Pantano knew, and what more than 25 years of data indicated, is that family readiness groups really do work.

"The core principles of family readiness groups are good. What we must decide is how are we going to take what we know really works for Army Families, and use that as a model for our network here," she said. Pantano also stressed the importance of making sure that every deployee felt connected to their leadership and supported and appreciated by their district.

Through the volunteerism of Pantano and leadership within Jacksonville District, including Kathy Mauffrey, emergency operations specialist, herself a former Service Member and military spouse, and graduates of the 2009 Leadership Development Program (LDP), a family readiness network is emerging.

A family readiness specialist, whose mission includes supporting the needs and demands of deployees and their families, will be hired soon. More information about the emergence of a district-wide family readiness network and how employees and loved ones can get involved will be distributed in the coming weeks.

Jacksonville District's 2009 LDP graduates developed a handbook called, "The JaxStrong Family Support Deployment Handbook," as a resource for supporting district employees and their loved ones. A common issue brought up by several LDP graduates who attended a March "family readiness network steering committee" meeting was the need for a central, "go-to" source for information access to resources for Civilians. They also agreed that although Overseas Contingency Operations might cease one day, deployment for emergency operations such as natural disaster response will not, making an FRG at Jacksonville District a priority now and well into the future.

Page last updated Mon April 19th, 2010 at 15:00