By By Thad Moyseowicz (USAG Brussels Public Affairs)February 10, 2009
Brussels, Belgium-The Soldier & Family Readiness Group is a fixture of Army operational units. SFRGs are organizations of Family members, volunteers and Soldiers within the particular unit. Although command-sponsored, they exist to bridge the gap between those subject to military chain of command and their Family members. They accomplish this in any number of ways, but, ultimately, mutual support is the desired end state.
The Brussels Garrison's SFRG is small, but has an effect all out of proportion to its size. More importantly, it strives to embrace the entire garrison community, not just its uniformed members.
"We number 30 Soldiers," explained Brussels Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Darin Conkright. "But we're really fortunate that our SFRG leadership has reached out to our civilian employees, who outnumber our Soldiers, and made them part of the group. Our Host Nation employees have felt welcome, and have participated actively."
Conkright believes this inclusivity is the secret of the Brussels SFRG's success.
The group had flowered and then gone dormant several times over several years when Shannon Bouck, spouse of Staff Sgt. Peter Bouck of the Garrison's Motor Pool volunteered her services to lead it back in September of 2007.
Conkright and the then-HHD Commander, Capt. Alex Galesi, were delighted. "Shannon was a real spark plug for our SFRG," said Galesi. "She's a really quiet and unassuming person who never seeks to be in the limelight, but she knows how to organize." Bouck also had experience of SFRGs in previous commands, but was quick to recognize how different the Brussels scenario was.
"In my other SFRGs, we were all either spouses of Soldiers or Soldiers," she explained. "We knew each other because of the military connection. But, here in Brussels, most of my husband's co-workers are civilians, and it didn't make sense for us to not count them as part of the Family."
Bouck decided to launch the new Brussels SFRG with a pot-luck lunch. Since it was during working hours, odds were greater that civilian employees would come. Bouck also was able to rely upon command support in widely publicizing the event within the garrison.
That first pot-luck lunch was a huge success, and launched the all-inclusive Brussels SFRG. Conkright was impressed. "Shannon and her friends managed to get a real crowd together. And it was really diverse."
Besides Soldiers and their Families, Conkright was gratified at the turn-out by civilian employees, both U.S. and Belgian. "In fact, the civilians outnumbered the uniformed people, but that's an accurate reflection of our garrison's demography," he said.
"We really want to get our garrison people together as a community," Bouck said.
In addition to the holding the popular pot-luck lunches every other month, the Brussels SFRG branched out, mobilizing pitching in at such garrison events as the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter parties, and helping members who were new parents.
One member who benefited was the HHD Commander's wife, Sabrina Galesi. Not only was Sabrina a new parent, she was a new Army spouse and a native of Germany, where she met and married her husband.
Besides having her Family in Germany, Sabrina confessed that "this Army stuff was new to me! I was really impressed with how the SFRG pulled together, taking care of not just Soldiers and their Families, but also our civilians. Plus, the SFRG helped me in my personal situation. I felt really close to these people."
With Bouck's tour as the SFRG's leader coming to an end, Sabrina felt she could accept the baton and continue in Bouck's footsteps.
"Sabrina didn't miss a beat, and the SFRG continued to be a meaningful and important part of the garrison," said Conkright.
The SFRG organized a surprise welcome home party for Cathy Blumental, a popular Belgian garrison employee, who had been gone for several months while fighting a serious illness.
"I was really moved," said Blumental. "I've worked here for several years, but we civilians and the Soldiers have tended to move in different circles. This gesture was "magnifique!"
The SFRG continued in its conscious effort to treat all garrison members as what Sabrina called "one big Family."
"We provided support for the Family of one of our garrison officers during his illness and arranged for flowers to be sent to a civilian employee's wife who had an emergency hospitalization," she said.
Sabrina Galesi feels there's a simple reason why it resonates within the Brussels Garrison. "We're small, and everybody immediately sees the benefits of mutual support. Besides," she added, "I want others to take care of me when I need help, so I give."