A Soldier is welcomed home by family members
A Soldier is welcomed home by family members in Asheville, N.C., after more than 15 months deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Soldier is assigned to the 210th Military Police Company, North Carolina Army National Guard.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2006 - The one overriding lesson of the all-volunteer force is the importance of the military family, a top Defense Department official said here today.

And DoD has learned the lesson, Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

November is Military Family Month, and Dominguez said it is a good time to highlight the sacrifices and strides military families have made. "Military families make an enormous contribution, because they support the servicemembers in the work they have to do," he said.

With 150,000 servicemembers deployed to Iraq and another 20,000 in Afghanistan, these are tough times for military families.

There were growing pains as DoD attempted to connect with families, Dominguez acknowledged. "Clearly, our ability to support a deployed force at war for sustained operation needed to adapt," he said. The department had never faced a deployment like Operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom before. The scale and length made caring for families difficult.

But the systems inside the department are adapting, he said. "When a unit gets deployed, the DoD Education Activity school surges counselors," he said. The schools understand what the children are going through and the counselors help prepare the teachers and families for what lies ahead.

"When the unit redeploys, you get the same kind of pressures," he said. "These servicemembers are coming home and life is going to change again. They are going to be dealing with all kinds of issues from having been in combat." Other questions surface, such as how the children are going to react to Dad or Mom coming home. The spouse has forged something of an independent identity during the deployment. How will the spouse react'

"Again, (we have a) big surge; a pulse of support to make sure the community can deal with that and that the schools and teachers are ready for that and prepared to help families," Dominguez said.

He said he has seen the department grow and develop, but more needs to happen. "This conflict is going to stretch us," he said. "We're going to bump into some boundaries we didn't know were there. So there's going to be more room for improvement, for growth more development that we're going to have to make, but I'm confident that we will adapt to it, because families are important. They sustain the all-volunteer force."

Some servicemembers have made multiple deployments to war zones, and Dominguez said it never gets any easier. "I can't imagine it gets easier -- not for the families, not for the member," he said. "I'd have to speculate it gets harder each time, but you'd have to ask one of our heroes who've done it, and one of those marvelous families that support them in doing it."

Information on how to help military families is available at the Defense Department's "America Supports You" Web site, www.americasupportsyou.mil.

Page last updated Tue November 7th, 2006 at 16:41