FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 23, 2022) -- The Fort Drum Soldier and Family Readiness Division is reactivating a longstanding Army program called Army Family Team Building, or AFTB.
It’s a specialized training program that introduces spouses and civilians to Army culture and offers guidance on transitioning into the Army lifestyle. During the Level I class, attendees learn basic military jargon and community resources, and they get helpful tips such as how to read an LES (Leave and Earnings Statement) and how to identify rank structure.
Level II and III classes focus on personal growth and professional development skills, as attendees become more active in their communities and take on greater responsibilities.
Kelly Bice was introduced to AFTB while working with the local 4-H youth organization. When she was appointed as the New York State 4-H military liaison for Fort Drum, Fort Hamilton and West Point in 2002, Bice recognized that, as a civilian, she needed a better understanding of how to interact with military families.
“I knew nothing about the military,” she said. “I had a marine biology degree and was teaching environmental education while managing 4-H Camp Wabasso. If you are going to work with military children and families, then you have to be able to talk with them and establish trust in that we know what they need.”
The AFTB program gave her the skills and confidence that she used throughout her career and in volunteer opportunities. Bice became an AFTB instructor, an Army Community Service master trainer, master resiliency trainer, and family readiness volunteer. Through the 4-H Military Partnership, she wrote curriculum for Child and Youth Services to include Operation: Boots On and the Junior Deployment Brief for children of deploying parents.
In 2009, Bice served as the family readiness support assistant for the New York National Guard’s 27th Brigade, under the New York National Guard Family Program Team. She also served as the Army Family Action Plan coordinator for the State Family Program Office.
From 2012 until May, Bice worked for the 174th Attack Wing, where she advised and educated unit leaders, provided Airmen and their families with family readiness events and workshops, conducted newcomer’s briefings and implemented youth programs.
“AFTB really was the foundation to my military career,” she said. “I’m very grateful for what the program has done for me, and I am a very firm believer in the program.”
And now she is the new AFTB program manager at Fort Drum.
“For me, this is my dream job,” Bice said. “Having been with the Air National Guard for the past 10 years, they said, ‘You’re going to work with active duty?’ But for me, this is going home. I’ve been volunteering here for 20 years, and so it never felt like I was the new kid on the block. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and supportive, and as a team we support each other.”
Bice said that she was excited to join the Soldier and Family Readiness Division, because of all the resources available to community members. Working in the Family Resource Center, she said a Soldier or family member can go inside any one of the offices and walk away with useful information or fill their calendars with fun and interesting events to attend.
“I really get excited about coming into the Family Resource Center every day, and I want everyone to know that it’s here,” she said. “I get to help people – help people who are serving our country. I was not in the service, and I am late in life to the military spouse side of things. But everyone serves differently, and my job is to educate family members so they are better equipped to handle Army life. My husband deployed three times in the last five years, and that’s a lot. But I want spouses to know that they can handle that and they can flourish.”
AFTB classes have not been offered at Fort Drum since 2017, so Bice is busy promoting the program to community members who are not aware of it.
“AFTB is professional development for the military spouse, and it is an excellent opportunity to be trained and learn about all the fundamentals of the Army and Army life so they can be successful themselves,” she said. “The Army invests a lot of money to train Soldiers, and we also need to do the same thing for our spouses, so they can be successful, positive, forward-moving and resilient.”
The first Level I (Military Knowledge) class is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Family Resource Center, Bldg. 11042 on Mount Belvedere Boulevard.
“This class is like Army 101,” Bice said. “It gives you a good basis so when your spouse comes home, you know what they are talking about and you can relate a bit more to that experience of being in the Army.”
The Level II (Personal Growth and Resiliency) class is scheduled Oct. 4-5, and Level III (Leadership Development) is slated for Nov. 15-16.
“Those classes will help develop your communication skills, how to organize and lead a meeting and set a spouse up for becoming a Soldier and Family Readiness Group (SFRG) leader,” Bice said. “Someone might be tagged to do this, or they volunteer, and it’s not exactly within their skill set. So we teach them how to get people together and start a conversation. In Level III, we identify different leadership styles and help people develop their own.”
Those who complete all three AFTB levels can opt for additional training to become an AFTB instructor or a volunteer instructor. Bice will host an AFTB Instructor Meetup from 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 8, with instructor training scheduled Dec. 7-8.
To get a better understanding about AFTB, community members are invited to AFTB Trivia Night, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at Maggie’s on the Mountain, Bldg. 10207 on North Riva Ridge Loop.
“Right now, the biggest thing is getting the word out that we are here,” Bice said. “Our classes are at the Family Resource Center, they are free, and if you don’t have child care, you can bring your kids. If you can’t come to class, we will try to come to you.”
Bice said that she will work with unit leadership to schedule classes in four two-hour sessions after the duty day.
“That way, the Soldier goes home and the spouse can come to class so there is no issue with child care,” she said. “We can also do two half-days or one full-day session, we will do lunch-and-learns – whatever we can do to get this training out to people who want it. This is not about me getting a certain number of people into a class. It’s all about them – helping people with opportunities to build their resumes and become even better Army professionals, which is what spouses are as well.”
Bice also manages the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP), which encourages Soldiers, family members, retirees and civilian professionals to take an active role in identifying issues related to quality of life. AFAP provides real-time information that enables commanders to respond expediently to resolve problems and implement good ideas.
“Knowing that we haven’t had AFAP here for a while, we’re going to slowly roll it back out,” she said. “The message behind AFAP is, if you are unhappy, be the change. Because we have the ability to make change happen.”
To start, Bice said that she will organize focus groups that will discuss one particular issue on the third Thursday of each month, starting next January.
“It will be an informal gathering – everyone in civilian clothes so there is no rank, and we will talk about what is happening at Fort Drum,” she said. “What are the issues, what can we do better or what can we do differently? It’s not that there are bad things going on, but how can we improve? We want to make sure that quality of life is always improving.”
She said that all of the issues discussed will culminate in a town hall meeting sometime in mid-2023.
“We’ve started to collect some issues already, and we have forms that are out and being circulated,” Bice said. “People who remember AFAP, and know the process, have found the forms. But also, anytime someone comes in and mentions something that could be an AFAP issue I will write that down. So we’re off to a good start.”
For more information about AFTB and AFAP, or to register for a class, call (315) 772-6710.