FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Jan. 27, 2023) -- Soldier and family members with 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, gathered at the Multipurpose Auditorium early in January to talk about an upcoming training rotation to Fort Polk, Louisiana.
It would have seemed like a standard pre-deployment briefing before a unit goes to the Joint Readiness Training Center, but Lynn Williams found it anything but typical.
“For one, the attendance by Soldiers and family members was remarkable, and I’ve been seeing this across the 2nd Brigade Combat Team during this JRTC cycle,” she said. “And all the company leadership was in the room, along with Soldier and Family Readiness Group (SFRG) advisors and volunteers, to welcome the families and connect with them.”
Also attending the briefing were representatives from various family support organizations and agencies on post, to include military family life counselors, American Red Cross, Child and Youth Services and TRICARE, to answer questions and talk about how they assist community members.
As the Mobilization and Deployment program manager in the Soldier and Family Readiness Division, Williams helps to organize these unit events and she teaches all the SFRG classes at the Family Resource Center.
Communicating information to Soldiers and family members and advocating support services is central to the SFRG mission, and Williams said the pre-deployment briefing captured that message perfectly.
“The families knew about the briefing ahead of time, they attended, got the information and learned about resources available to them,” she said. “Part of the reason this is working so well is because the leadership is actively involved, and they are maintaining the SFRG program in their units.”
The Armywide implementation of the SFRG program recognizes that unit, Soldier and family readiness is linked to mission preparedness. It is mandated that every company, troop or battery on an installation has an active SFRG, and it is command-driven.
Commanders are tasked with developing and maintaining an energetic communications plan that reaches all their Soldiers and families to keep them informed of unit information and community resources.
Lt. Col. David Chichetti, 2-14 Infantry commander, said that he has strived to maintain a program that focuses on family readiness, and that efforts are ongoing to improve it.
“The real intent for the SFRG is readiness,” Chichetti said. “When we are preparing for deployment, we want to be sure our families are self-reliant and have the capacity to handle problems when their Soldiers are away. Not everyone is going to be aggressively involved with their SFRG, but we’re not going to leave them with the impression that they won’t be helped.”
Chichetti describes it as “participation vs. enrollment.” At minimum, Soldiers must provide family contact information, and their enrollment in the program allows for two-way communication. After that, participation in the SFRG is optional.
Williams said the biggest challenge is maintaining a complete and accurate contact roster.
“Without a roster, you cannot have an effective SFRG,” she said. “Building them is tough because oftentimes it is the Soldier who we depend on to give us the information.”
Often when Soldier fills out the SFRG contact information, they provide only theirs and not a viable way to reach other family members.
“And this is where it gets difficult,” Williams said. “When the Soldier does not share information, then the spouse never gets to choose to be involved with the SFRG.”
Williams said another challenge is finding the right means of distributing information. Some SFRGs use the unit’s social media platforms, while others have found weekly or monthly emails are effective. Social activities also can be ways to inform family members in an informal setting, while building unit cohesion.
“Because we are a multi-generational Army, one size does not fit all,” she said. “But redundancy is OK, as long as the information is timely. We often hear from families that they are getting the information, but by the time they do, some of the events have passed.”
Chichetti said that the pre-deployment town hall meetings have been effective in building readiness among families.
“This JRTC rotation is an opportunity to have these town halls to talk with family members, make sure our call rosters are up-to-date and provide them with as much information as we can,” he said.
Erin Valentine-Chichetti, the SFRG battalion senior adviser, worked with 1st Lt. Andrew Park, a command family readiness representative (CFRR), to develop the 2-14th Soldier and Family Readiness Booklet.
She said the design came from an SFRG with 1st Brigade Combat Team, and they tailored the booklet so that families readily had a list of battalion and emergency services contacts, with additional space to add rear detachment and other unit information.
Additional pages include finance, medical, vehicle maintenance, housing, and important documents checklists.
“We feel that the checklists help families identify things that they need to get in order before the Soldier departs,” Valentine-Chichetti said.
Support services include phone numbers and addresses, such as Family Advocacy Program, Legal Assistance Office, and Mountain Community Homes. Summaries were added to explain what the agencies can provide family members.
“The idea was to make it comprehensive, clear and user-friendly,” Valentine-Chichetti said. “In the Army, there are so many resources for Soldiers and families. But it isn’t always easy to know what they are. So, I think having a booklet like this in which it is all laid out – where you go, who you should speak with to access these resources – can help families be more proactive in a lot of situations.”
Williams said that there are other examples across the 10th Mountain Division of exceptional SFRG programs.
“The best SFRGs are the ones that prepare families for whatever could come their way,” she said. “When the 91st Military Police Battalion had a rapid deployment to Europe two years ago, thankfully they had a very active SFRG program in place. It makes it that much easier for Soldiers to get out the door when their families aren’t scrambling because they weren’t prepared for their absence. So, they did a phenomenal job, and you could see that the families were ready.”
To learn more about the Soldier and Family Readiness Division’s Mobilization and Deployment Program visit www.facebook.com/FortDrumSFAC/. Soldiers and family members can call (315) 772-0509 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for SFRG training.