By CRYSTAL LEWIS BROWN, Fort Jackson LeaderMay 21, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson's Family Readiness Groups will soon have a new place to call home.
Michelle Jordan, Family Readiness Support Assistant for the Office of the Commanding General, said a new FRG building, located next to Darby Field, should be ready to use by June 1.
The building is just one of many improvements Fort Jackson leadership is taking to revitalize FRGs post-wide.
"Col. (Kevin) Shwedo, Brig. Gen. (Bradley) May and Command Sgt. Maj. (Brian) Stall are really grasping the FRG concept because they really care about our families," said Jordan, referring to the deputy commanding officer, post commander and post sergeant major. Jordan came on board in October as a full-time employee whose sole task is to work with post families and FRGs.
The new building, which Jordan hopes will house computers and a child care area for use during meetings, will also be the new space for the FRG executive meetings, another new initiative.
The executive meetings, which include representatives from all Fort Jackson brigades and tenant units, started in February and are held quarterly.
"Anybody can attend these meetings," she said. "It gives the family members and the FRGs a chance to voice their concerns."
The meetings are also a way to ensure all of the FRGs are on the same page, she said.
"It's very important because it helps (make sure) you are on the same accord as the commander and your Soldier."
As a former military spouse, Jordan urges all military spouses to participate in the FRG.
"Before the FRG came about, I didn't know anything," she said about her experience as a spouse. "It's a wealth of knowledge. Even though (Fort Jackson) is not a deploying post, it's still important."
Chris Fortier, FRG adviser for the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, shares that sentiment.
"FRGs are, throughout the Army, a resource for families," she said. She also disagrees with those who think the FRG is unnecessary because many of Fort Jackson's Soldiers do not deploy.
"When a Soldier gets in, the command sergeant major doesn't say, 'Hey, we're not deploying so we don't have to do (physical training),'" she said.
Col. Karl Reed, 171st Infantry Brigade Commander, said it is important to note the differences between the combat-related FRG and one in a training environment.
"In the battalion I commanded at Fort Lewis, Wash., the FRG cared for the families after three Soldiers were killed in action and 59 were wounded in action - many of whom had to be hospitalized. Their families were supported by the FRG. The stress involved with supporting a combat unit as a volunteer is nothing short of above and beyond the call of duty," Reed said.
"Here at Fort Jackson, our mission is different and for these reasons, as families are assigned to the brigade, I am careful not to attempt to replicate and mirror a deploying unit's FRG."
Fortier said joining the FRG at a training post is also a good way to get experience and be familiar with the process in case a Soldier moves on to a combat unit like Reed described.
"What would kill me is if someone leaves our unit and says, 'We didn't have an FRG, we don't know what that is,'" she said.
Fortier and husband Lt. Col. Collin Fortier, battalion commander, made revitalizing the FRG a priority when they arrived here almost a year ago. An acronym, WARS (welcome, accurate information, referral to resources, social), describes their FRG philosophy.
She and her husband let all FRG volunteers know that it is important to welcome newcomers to the battalion; make sure there is accurate contact information for all
Soldiers and family members; provide referrals to on-post resources to keep families informed; and make time for social events.
"We always say at Fort Jackson, the "F" in FRG should be fun," Fortier said.
Along with having social events such as a Christmas party and a spring formal, the FRG has also created its own spouse handbook to provide advice and helpful hints to the battalion's incoming spouses.
These spouses, Reed said, are the key to the entire FRG program. Volunteers are critical, he added.
"Many of our spouses have been members of FRGs in deploying units, and they too may need a break from the stresses of war. My philosophy is that in order to have an effective FRG it takes a committed volunteer," he said. "As the brigade supports the installation's campaign plan - mitigating the effects of persistent conflict - our FRG is designed to support our families and communicate information and programs in a very low stress environment, which allows for the program to be totally volunteer.
"The BlackHawk Family Support Team is made up of leaders' spouses and any other volunteer who wants to serve in that role. Our mission is not to fund raise - sell T-shirts, host hot dog sales - but instead, to focus on pushing information and surging to support our families when in need."