FORT BELVOIR, Va. - A helping hand. A familiar face. A driver for the first time your jet-lagged family arrives in a country that drives on the 'wrong' side of the road, or with the steering wheel on the 'wrong' side of the van. Puzzles for travel-weary children and a fruit basket placed in a crowded, temporary hotel room. Someone with a 'been there, here's what I suggest,' capability.

These are only some of the benefits servicemembers and their families can provide to others who are newcomers, through its sponsorship program.

At Fort Belvoir, Army Community Service is the entity that trains people to become sponsors - and help another Soldier and/or their family get settled and get acquainted with the new location, its customs, climate, tempo and local idiosyncrasies, like traffic and train schedules.

According to Tammye Braddy, relocation readiness program manager and acting Soldier and Family Assistance Center director, individual units handle requests for the sponsorship program. Volunteers for the sponsorship program have to attend two hours of training, which is usually conducted quarterly.

Typically, a Soldier requests a sponsor from the gaining unit once orders are cut, they know where they're headed and the PCS wheels are in motion.

"The gaining unit should be notified of a sponsor request. Within 7 to 10 days, some kind of communication, preferably a welcome letter and packet, along with an introduction from the sponsor, should arrive to the Soldier and family.

After initial correspondence, the sponsor answers follow-up correspondence and keeps the chain of command informed of incoming personnel's status. Sponsors also often coordinate an initial meeting place upon arrival and help with in-processing, including introducing the newcomer to his or her supervisors and chain-of-command.

"The relocation office provides training to people who want to become someone else's sponsor. Additionally, we perform unit and organization training, too," Braddy said.

She identified three types of sponsorship: full, limited and reactionary.

Full sponsorship starts as soon as an individual or family that's set to relocate requests help. Limited sponsorship typically begins when a person arrives at a new duty station. Reactionary, Braddy said, is "the least desirable. It happens when someone gets here and realizes the new area really is more foreign to them than they thought and request some help."

In terms of sponsors' requirement, Braddy said an ideal pairing is between servicemembers of the same grade or rank, same gender, marital status and family make up. "This helps in terms of discussions about schools, day-care facilities, location," Braddy said. She added that sponsors also shouldn't be expecting to PCS or transition, themselves, within 60 days of a newcomer's arrival and that sponsors should not precede them in their particular job.

"Potential sponsors also have to completely have a willingness to help and understand the importance of the unit's first impression they're providing," Braddy said. "The program is so important because it gives newcomers a sense of belonging with their new assignment and new unit and it shows them the new unit cares and is trying to provide a newcomer an initial sense of belonging. It lets people coming here know they are already part of a family."

"The sponsorship program helps Soldiers be mission-ready, especially if a family is coming here and then the Soldier is soon deploying. The program provides ongoing help for the family members who stay back," she said.

"And, volunteering as sponsors helps show leadership, guidance and mentorship skills in a Soldier," Braddy said. "It's especially imperative to have a good sponsorship program in this area."

Page last updated Mon June 21st, 2010 at 11:40