Family Readiness Groups vital for Army families
September 27, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Much like the chain of command assures Soldiers get the training, information and equipment to do their jobs, family readiness groups provide a communications link between command and Soldiers' families.
For those unfamiliar with the groups, they serve primarily to get information out to families about their Soldiers' deployments or support programs available to help families cope during times of separation. Teamwork is interwoven throughout the fabric of the program with FRGs existing at the battalion and battery levels with advisers serving at brigades.
"A good family readiness group takes teamwork, not just one person doing it to make it a good thing," said Sharon Kredowski, a military spouse, whose husband is assigned to the 214th Fires Brigade. She has worked with FRGs at all three command levels. "Spouses start at that level where they meet everyone and learn about the program; from there we work together as a battalion and a brigade so information filters up and back down."
FRGs meet a specific need for the Army and don't just serve as a program to keep spouses busy while their Soldiers are deployed.
"An FRG is not a social organization, its operation ready definition is to be a point of information dissemination between command and families," said Miranda Westbrook, whose spouse is also in the 214th FiB. Though an Army spouse of three years, she has deeper ties to the armed forces growing up in a military family.
Westbrook said she's been an FRG leader three times and enjoyed getting to know Soldiers and families while serving as a liaison between the command and families. As her husband prepared for deployment, she began her first lead developing a team taking over an existing poorly run program that disillusioned many of its members.
"We had some issues where spouses didn't have adequate information and were trying to get it on their own," she said. "We took on a "Field of Dreams" approach of if we build it to the best of our ability, people will come, invest and take part."
She said as members saw their needs getting met on a consistent basis others joined and momentum built.
"By the time the redeployment came around, we were rolling as a team, and doing things for spouses and their children," she said. "We realized the full potential of what an FRG can mean to Army families; I took a lot of pride from that experience, not personally, but because it was a team effort."
Supporting an organization that is so rank structured, Westbrook said to be successful FRGs must operate free of spousal ranks.
"If an FRG does, that sets boundaries and divisions within the spouses of that unit," she said.
Westbrook is an example of the nonranks approach, though her husband is a captain, her last two battle buddies from his deployments were NCOs' spouses.
"It's all about where you find comfort in making friends and developing relationships," she said.
At the brigade level, Cindy Morrissey serves as the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade FRG adviser. She said most of the hands-on work happens at the battalion and battery levels, and that she makes herself available if leaders have questions.
She said the brigade had one battalion getting ready to deploy and booked two town hall meetings packing Sheridan Theater.
"The meetings were phenomenal and gave us a great way to get important information on resources and other matters to battalion families," she said.
FRG leaders in the brigade also used weekly emails and Facebook pages to disseminate information.
She recalled when her husband commanded a battalion. When the unit deployed, rather than have FRG meetings for four separate batteries, they brought everyone together, rented the chapel annex and held a battalion FRG meeting.
"We brought in speakers who addressed financial readiness, Red Cross or other Army Community Service programs, and it worked out great," she said.
Also serving as a brigade FRG liaison, Jennifer Dvoracek said the 434th Field Artillery Brigade often gets overlooked for having functioning FRGs. This is because as a Training and Doctrine Command unit, most Soldiers don't deploy overseas. However, drill sergeants especially spend a lot of time "at the office" during a 10-week training cycle and minimal time at home. So FRGs continue to exist to help keep spouses up to date on information they need. She added the brigade often schedules FRG meetings during the breaks between training cycles.
"Leaders also do a great job creating virtual FRGs through Face Book that displays photos of Basic Combat Training Soldiers and keeps their families current on what the Soldiers are doing."
Editor's note: This Cannoneer article is third in a series about families: the strength of Army Soldiers.