More than 400 volunteer family readiness group (FRG) leaders from Army units nationwide participated in the first-ever leader training symposium in Washington, D.C., designed and conducted especially for them by U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Oct. 6 through 8.

The symposium, entitled "Empowering FRGs ...Tools for Leadership Success," was held in conjunction with the first "Military Family Forum," sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA). AUSA's annual national meeting and exposition, tagged America's Army: Strength of the Nation, was held at the nearby Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

"We felt this was the perfect time to invite FRG leaders to Washington to hear from senior Army leadership about their caring and commitment in the area of Family readiness," said Molly Lenk, Well-Being Program specialist in FORSCOM's Directorate of Human Resources. Lenk was one of the symposium organizers.

"We've never done this before, so when we sent out invitations to FRG leaders to attend the training, we didn't know what to expect," Lenk said. "The response was overwhelming. We received 422 confirmations from new and experienced FRG leaders," she said. The five-hour symposium included remarks by Gen. Charles Campbell, FORSCOM's commanding general, who explained the command's mission and what it means to Army Families.

"Forces Command oversees the readiness, manning, equipping, training and deployment of the units to which your family readiness groups are associated," said Campbell.

"Families are an integral part of the Army and a vital factor in the combat readiness of every unit. Soldiers who are confident their Families are taken care of are more focused on the mission, and they will remain in the Army," he said. "So by taking care of our Army Families, we are taking care of our Soldiers."

The symposium was divided into segments. One segment featured Gigi Linder, from the Family and Morale, Welfare, Recreation Command (FMWRC), discussing available programs like: - a comprehensive Web database of information about available programs and services for military Families - the site that will ultimately incorporate information found on with other information (when fully operational this fall) to meet the diverse needs of active Army, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, their Families and employers throughout the entire deployment cycle.

Leaders erupted into loud applause when Linder mentioned FRGs and fundraising. "FRGs were never meant to be fundraising organizations," said Linder. "FRGs are communication networks, not fundraisers."

Attorney Sandra Franzblau, an FMWRC advisor, reiterated the mission of FRGs and addressed the legal and ethical considerations of FRG support and funding, as outlined in AR 608-1 (Army Community Service Center), Annex J, Army Family Readiness Group Operations.

The bottom line, according to Franzblau, is "Unit commanders are responsible for funding FRG mission-essential activities."

Lt. Col. Brad Fipps, FORSCOM chaplain, discussed the role of chaplains at home and at war.
"We are embedded with Soldiers at all levels," Fipps said. "We do not carry weapons, but we have chaplains' assistants who are supposed to be our bodyguards. The first question I always ask them is, 'What do you shoot' Expert''" he said, to laughter from the audience. "Some people call us 'combat pastors,' but we also have chaplains back in the rear detachment area to help you, and that's what we want to do (help you)," said Fipps.

Col. David M. Griffith, director of U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute (FTS), discussed the program that is sponsored by the secretary and chief of staff of the Army. "The program gives every Soldier an opportunity to recognize his or her parents, spouse and, for the Guard and Reserve Soldiers, their employers to say 'thank you' for their support," Griffith said.

"The program also recognizes any discharged Army veteran and supporter in the community."
FTS recipients receive a certificate of appreciation, a letter of commendation and an Army lapel pin. For more program information, visit

Maj. Tom Gilleran of FORSCOM's Public Affairs Office taught the FRG leaders how to properly engage the news media. He told them to be honest, be prepared, don't deal in rumors and don't mislead the media.

One FRG leader spoke of her experience dealing with media, saying after she finished an interview and was walking with the reporter back to her vehicle, she said she made an off-hand remark in one instance about calling her husband "Crazy Tony." The next day, the lead in the story was "His wife lovingly calls her husband 'Crazy Tony.'"

Gilleran responded, "Everything is on the record, so save your thoughts and comments for the drive home." Sarah Lynch, wife of Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, and a former commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, while it was deployed to Iraq, closed the symposium by chairing the FRG leader panel.

Lynch and six other panel members answered questions from the audience.

Most questions dealt with how to get spouses involved as FRG volunteers. "Give them a title and a responsible job, and they will continue to volunteer with the group," suggested one panel member.

Brig. Gen. Eric Porter, chief, Directorate of Human Resources (DHR), FORSCOM, said the symposium was a huge success for both FRG leaders and FORSCOM senior leadership. "We are listening to the company-level FRG leaders who bring a refreshing new perspective on how we can improve and develop solutions on different issues that impact Soldier, Family and unit readiness," said Porter.

"One recommendation of something we can do better is to train company commanders and rear detachment commanders concerning the importance of FRGs," he said.

"The training has been very, very wonderful," said Adina Wasson, FRG leader for Company E, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell, Ky. "It's been a good experience. I want to encourage the other FRG leaders to share the information (learned during the symposium) with Families and Soldiers when they get home," she said.

Larris Marks, FORSCOM director of DHR, said the symposium was an overwhelming success.

"This was an opportunity to enhance Family readiness because it is inextricably tied to Soldier readiness," said Marks. "Hundreds of FRG leaders are now well equipped to touch thousands of lives," she said.