By Jack Wiers, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsDecember 22, 2009
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - Homecomings are rousing and emotional, befitting a heroic welcome. Cheers of family members and fellow Soldiers echo throughout the Multifunctional Deployment Facility, here, at each redeployment ceremony.
The welcoming roars rise in tandem with the emotional strains of Rocky and conclude with the Army Song. What follows is a cascade of humanity quickly pouring together as family members, loved ones and friends reunite. As with traditional Hawaiian welcomes, many lei are handed out and worn through the evening.
Lei greeters from Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) have joined friends and family members during welcome home ceremonies for the past six years.
"We noticed that many single Soldiers were left standing alone, without a proper lei greeting" said Kathy Giannetti, chief of Recreation Delivery Services, FMWR. "That's when we decided as an organization to do something about it."
FMWR first mobilized its deployment process action team in 2004. Early momentum not only generated the lei greeting program, but also created special deployment and redeployment events and programs that led to the creation of the Blue Star Card, an award-winning program of FMWR special services, daily discounts and child care discounts for families of deployed Soldiers.
"The Blue Star Card established a new level of commitment to our Soldiers and families during a time of deployment, and we are justifiably proud of it" said Col. Matthew Margotta, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii. "It's a program that's been widely imitated throughout all the armed services."
While Soldiers continue to return home to their lei greeting, they will also find many new FMWR activities to sample - programs created and enhanced during the past deployment.
Whether it's enjoying an evening of discounted bowling at the newly renovated Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter bowling centers; sampling free Papa John's pizza as part of Family Fun Fridays at Schofield Barracks' Tropics RecreationAca,!E+Center; or taking advantage of Child, Youth and School Services' (CYS2) free child care, SKIES classes, and youth sports offerings, Soldiers are taking advantage of Army Family Covenant programs and enhancements.
The Army Family Covenant expands opportunities for families in five areas: programs and services, health care, housing, youth needs, and spouse education and employment.
Serving an increasingly diverse customer group takes many unique forms. FMWR proves there are many ways to relieve stress and have fun, from new yoga classes at the fitness centers to the Waikiki Express, a free shuttle bus that primarily services single Soldiers. In addition to the regular biweekly service, additional bus trips are being offered to redeployed service members.
Meanwhile, young family members will find themselves eligible for 16 hours of free child care through FMWR's Blue Star Card and CYS2 programs.
"Our commitment is to sharpen our focus to the special needs of a variety of customers, from single Soldiers, to children of the redeployed," said Ron Locklar, director of FMWR's Community Recreation Division (CRD).
Locklar sees the recent honors as a challenge to keep pushing forward.
"There are many changes ... but they are good. We've gotten better," Locklar said.
(Editor's Note: This article ran in the Hawaii Army Weekly's redeployment insert, which was published Nov. 20. To see the entire insert, click here. The insert starts on page 14.)