By Ms. Kristen Marquez (IMCOM)January 15, 2009
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- The Army Family Covenant-sponsored Soldier and Family Assistance Center is designed to take care of warriors in transition.
And as the SFAC coordinator for the military communities of Heidelberg, Mannheim and Stuttgart, Dennis Menard is responsible for coordinating the SFAC budget, staffing, resources, transportation and a host of other things for the warriors in transition who come through the centers.
Menard, a retired Army officer, has spent more than 20 years of his 45-year career working in Army services such as Army Community Service, Youth Services, Child Care and Family Support services. He says he loves his job, and the best part is seeing a Soldier come in, get treated, and then go back to active duty.
"I always wanted to work with wounded warriors and warriors in transition," he said. "I feel there's a need to make sure they are getting proper services. With my background in assisting Soldiers and families all these years and trying to help Soldiers along the way, I felt there was a bigger need for me to come here and try to help warriors in transition."
Christina Callaghan, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg Army Community Service director, said Menard's background and experience help contribute to the success of the SFAC.
Before becoming the Heidelberg SFAC coordinator, Menard worked as an ACS/SFAC director at Fort Benning, Ga.
"Dennis is able to see the big picture and thus is adept at coordinating SFAC services for the Heidelberg, Mannheim and Stuttgart region," Callaghan said.
The SFAC is a part of ACS and is a one-stop service access location for warriors in transition and their families. The SFAC's trained staff is available to provide guidance, assistance, information and referrals for social services, employment, and education services, as well as other support agencies to help facilitate the recovery of a warrior in transition.
That includes an SFAC specialist to help make appointments and provide priority service, an educational guidance counselor for helping with continuing education, and a human resources specialist who can provide guidance on in- and out-processing, Army personnel matters, promotions, orders, and VA benefits. He said all of his staff is fully trained and can recognize what Soldiers need and ensure that their needs are met.
"We know what we see - that this Soldier or family member needs extended care and we know exactly where to refer that person to because of our background and training," he said. "We are able to recognize what the symptoms mean and who could best treat those symptoms."
The Heidelberg SFAC opened in January 2008, celebrated its grand opening in April and has been going strong since day one. Menard arrived in April and quickly stepped up to the myriad of duties his job entails.
"What I have to do every day basically is program oversight," he said. "We get involved in making sure their appointments are fluid.
"If there is a problem with housing I'll step in; if there's a problem with transportation, I'll step in to make sure the Soldier is getting the proper service quickly."
Menard said when Soldiers are assigned to the WTU and seek the SFAC services, no one knows how long the time with them will be, so they make sure to work as quickly as possible to get everything finished as soon as the Soldier needs help.
They work with Soldiers and family members here, but also take it one step further by sending letters and information to family members who may be far away from their Soldiers.
"The SFAC is great in that it is a one-stop resource and service center for WTU Soldiers and their families," Callaghan said. "No one likes to get the runaround, and the SFAC is the place where WTs get the priority service they deserve. (Menard) had first-hand experience with many of the problems that the Soldiers are experiencing and can set them in the right direction."
Menard admits his job is very satisfying. He said his favorite part will always be seeing the success stories.
"Seeing a Soldier come in, with various illnesses and injuries, and seeing him get treated and get on the healing path and go back to active duty," is the best part of the job, Menard said. "Most of our Soldiers return to active duty fully productive, and that's what I like to see."
When Soldiers do leave, Menard ensures they have a plan for the future and the tools to succeed.
The SFAC's vision is to foster self-reliance in the WTU Soldiers - so they can focus on their mission to heal. But it's not just people advocating for them.
The SFAC itself is a place the Soldier can go to heal in his own way - by talking about things or even relaxing in the SFAC lounge, watching television, or taking a class on the Internet.
"It's satisfying to see a Soldier heal; it's satisfying to see a Soldier return to duty, fully productive and can continue on in his field," Menard said. "These Soldiers have a lot of valuable experience. My satisfaction is making sure we provide the very best service we can ... to help that Soldier through the healing process."
(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez works in the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg Public Affairs Office).