FORT SILL, Okla. (March 24, 2016) -- Basic combat training might be an enormous challenge to a young Soldier, but it's also stressful for Family members. An online program helps Families learn about their Soldier's new lifestyle, and their participation can provide the Soldier-in-training a few extra benefits.
"It can give their son or daughter an extra 10 minutes on the phone," said Lt. Col. Mark Anders, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery commander, "or we'll post their picture on Facebook, or do a shoutout video."
He calls it "Army 101."
Because cell phones of basic trainees are confiscated during their nine-week cycle, and they aren't even allowed communication via Facebook or other social media, families often jump at the chance for more connection with their loved ones.
Anders worked with Merilee Nevins, Army Family Team Building (AFTB) and Army Family Action Plan program manager, to publicize the program with Army OneSource training. If families follow the program all the way, they get a certificate. "Since we started last year I've signed over 2,500 certificates for Family and friends who completed this training," said Anders.
Nevins laughed when she recalled the 900 certificates from E Battery several months ago. "Col. Anders signed every one by hand." He sent her a photo of a cramped, claw-shaped hand afterward. She gives high praise to Anders for making Family outreach a priority and helping to set up the program. "When Family members are informed it makes life easier for everybody," she said.
There are 10 lessons in the 1st Level AFTB course, which include military acronyms, chain of command, customs and courtesies, Family readiness groups, and expectations and impact of the mission on Family.
A standard letter about the training is sent out by the battery commanders to the families in the first few weeks of their Soldier's training, and is also on the battery's Web page. Each battery offers its own incentives, said Nevins, and there's even been some friendly competition between commanders to see who could enroll the most Family members.
She said as a parent whose son was in basic training last year, she knows how important it is for Family members to know how their loved ones are doing in what is a notoriously difficult nine weeks. She said a father had contacted her because he had trouble accessing the Army OneSource site. "He said his wife wanted to see her son, hear from him, see his picture." The incentives for finishing the course would have allowed more of that.
There are three levels to the training. The first is learning about Army culture. The second is personal growth and resiliency. "Self-awareness, handling stress, time management, improving personal relationships, how to take care of yourself when the spouse deploys," she said.
The third is leadership. "How you learn a leadership style, coach and mentor, and team dynamics."
Nevins also brings Army 101 training onsite to groups, tailoring it to fit a particular need. "I've taught leadership development classes to drill sergeants," she said. "I've gone out to [Department of the Army] civilian groups to do team building classes." She said she's even done training on etiquette at military balls.
"They are interactive, fun classes. Online is great, but we offer a more updated curriculum than what is available online." She said it will take 18 months for new information to be incorporated into the online training, which will eventually transition to something more interactive and video-based.
There's also a free AFTB app for iPhone and Android phones created by Fort Gordon, Ga. It doesn't have the ability to do the testing that will automatically generate a certificate, but Nevins said if the Family member contacts her she can print one for them.
"To date, we've touched over 3,000 Family members with knowledge of Army culture," she said. That's just in the first year of the program here. "These families have a better understanding of the journey their Soldier started."
AFTB hasn't yet celebrated its 25th anniversary, and it continues to be an example of how the Army has changed to be more inclusive to families of Soldiers. "They learned from Desert Storm that we didn't support the families in ways that they needed. If Soldiers are worried about their families, they can't concentrate on the mission. Families need to gain skills to be resilient."
Civilians new to the Army can also benefit from the wealth of information available in the Army OneSource training.
Nevins said AFTB was developed by Army spouses to help others answer questions such as "who do I talk to, where do I get information I need?" instead of asking their deployed Soldiers to handle minor crises from afar. "Your Soldier will be more productive when he's not worrying what's happening on the homefront."
Nevins said even drill sergeant Families need to develop resiliency since their Soldiers are gone from "oh-dark-thirty to oh-dark-thirty" every day. Drill sergeants typically have extremely long days during a training cycle. "It's almost like they are deployed," said Nevins.
Child care will be provided by Army Community Services at some of the classes she gives, as long as the child is registered with Child, Youth and School Services and the class occurs during daytime hours."
For more information contact Merilee Nevins at merilee.k.nevins.civ at mail.mil or call 580-442-2039/2382.