ACS: Building the Army Team One Family at a Time
September 12, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany - No one - Soldier, Family member or civilian employee - joins the Army community knowing everything there is to recognize about the military.
Consequently, the Army Family Team Building program, part of the Army Community Service here, helps new Soldiers learn about benefits and entitlements and teaches Family members and civilians the Army way of life.
"Family members are going to take on a lot roles that they never had before. We help them understand those roles and where they can go for help and how they can help themselves," said Diane Smith, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg, AFTB program manager.
"Our entire purpose is to make family members and new Soldiers self-reliant," she added.
The 13-year-old program of classes began shortly after Operation Desert Shield ended, when it became evident that Soldiers' Families were not prepared for that type of long-term engagement. There was no formal way of keeping them informed about their Soldiers' mission or about support programs.
"When the Army is at war, AFTB becomes much, much more important because so many families are left on their own," Smith said.
Spouses of Army leaders worked with ACS staffs to develop a program of small-group classes designed to teach all members of the Army community about the service.
"New Family members are our number one focus because they are the neediest," Smith said. "We have had whole groups (of spouses) who have been in the Army for a long time but have not figured it out."
Heidelberg's AFTB program's volunteer trainers have conducted classes for Family Readiness Groups and their leaders, junior NCO leaders, helping develop leadership and problem-solving skills.
In some communities, school teachers have also enrolled in the program.
"They need to understand the structure of what is happening to the kids," Smith explained. "We are able to explain to them the problems they will see with military kids and the pluses of working with military kids and Families."
A Soldier's length of service or seniority does not guarantee that his Family has accumulated knowledge about the Army during his career.
"We will also get sergeants' spouses whose husband is deploying for the first time and they have never entered into being part of the military," Smith said. "Their spouse has done everything for them the whole time, so they are pretty unequipped to do it because they have never done it before."
These Families not know where their post office box is located; they may not know how to make a medical appointment, she said. Heidelberg's classes also include information about "on-the-economy" services available in Germany.
There are four levels of AFTB training. They are:
Level 1: The foundation course, designed someone who is new to the military;
Level 2: Focuses on developing individual skills and is recommended for spouses and Soldiers who wish to develop into leaders;
Level 3: Provides professional and leadership development skills - recommended for spouses and Soldiers who hold leadership responsibilities within their FRG or other organization;
Level 4: Trains the next generation of AFTB instructors. Classes are tailored to meet a community's needs or because of special events such as a unit's deployment.
Additionally, the content is constantly evolving to meet the needs of an Army Family and to keep in step with the Army's transformation. For example, there are new units, new acronyms and new missions.
"AFTB is evolving - and has to - because the Army is changing so drastically," Smith said.
Trainers will blend classes together to meet an organization's needs. Classes can also be given in German. AFTB instructors come from all parts of the military community -
some are spouses, other are retired Soldiers or civilian employees.
"Each instructor brings a unique teaching style and a unique point of view," Smith said. "It makes a difference if you are a civilian spouse or if you used to be in the military or if you are the spouse of an enlisted Soldier."
"(ATFB) works for us, and I would like to help other spouses know it will work for them if they put in a little bit of effort," said Brooke Isidore, an ATFB volunteer instructor. "When they walk out of the classroom with a giant binder of resources they are squared away. They are ready for their life as a spouse in the military - for deployments, for unaccompanied tours, for any problem that could arise."
Between the classes and her continuing work as AFTB instructor, Isidore has made "gazillion" friends and contacts through the classes she attended as well as through those she teaches, she said.
Isidor said her husband, a senior NCO, has used information she gained through AFTB to mentor his junior Soldiers about their benefits, ACS and its services.
"There is power with information," she said. "It's out there; I grabbed it and I am passing it along to every spouse."
AFTB builds a Family member's confidence while increasing his or her knowledge about the Army, Smith said. It also builds Soldiers' confidence because they know their loved ones have the tools to take care of themselves.
"It helps our spouses and their Families become self-reliant so the Soldiers can focus upon their missions," she said.
(Dave Melancon is a member of the USAG Heidelberg Public Affairs Office)