Belvoir Care Team dedicated to helping military families

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The loss of a loved one can be heart-wrenching. It's a feeling military families know all too well as their husbands, wives, sons and daughters go off to defend their nation for the greater good.

Over the years, to ease the burden of coping with their loss, the Army has developed casualty response groups, also known as Care Teams - dedicated volunteers who offer emotional support and practical assistance to family members of injured or fallen Soldiers.

Care Team volunteers answer phones, help with household chores, babysit, run errands and provide home-cooked meals. Depending on the circumstances, they can also provide transportation and assist family members with lodging.

Fort Belvoir's Care Team was developed in June out of the installation's Mobilization, Deployment and Family Readiness Office. It operates under the installation's Headquarters Battalion and is available to active-duty Soldiers, their families and to those within a 60-mile radius, including deployed DoD civilians and their families.

While the overall mission sounds simple, volunteers agree its impact goes beyond the call of duty. Some attest to that from their own personal experiences.

A common bond
There's a common thread among Care Team volunteers at Belvoir. It's the opportunity to do what they can and help a Soldier's family wherever possible. In some cases, that includes helping someone who may not have anyone nearby for support.

Doxie McCaw-Cook understands the importance of comfort. She looked into joining the Care Team after losing a child and, while there is no remedy for the pain of the loss of someone close, she believes a network of support can help lift one's spirits.

Tammy Flowers and Kristi Salus feel the same way. Both of their husbands are members of Belvoir's 212th Military Police Detachment. The unit has suffered its share of losses in recent years and the two women decided to get involved as a way to help their fellow military spouses.

That's something Tina Hoffman is quite familiar with, too. She served as a volunteer on a Care Team at Fort Campbell, Ky., before arriving at Belvoir. Despite differences between the two installations, Hoffman noted the attitude among volunteers is the same and that it's an essential program to have at any Army post.

"Care Teams not only help families, but the units themselves. We're allowing Soldiers the opportunity to grieve together," Hoffman said.

"That's a very important part in all this, as well. They need to have that time together."

Making a difference
Like some of her colleagues, Jennifer Humphrey was inspired to join a support group after first helping a neighbor whose husband died more than a year ago. When she learned Belvoir had no pre-existing Care Team on post to aid Soldiers and families in the event of a death or serious accident, she sprung into action.

Humphrey immediately suggested the program to garrison leadership. Soon after, Installation Commander Col. Jerry Blixt made having a Care Team a top priority, and Lt. Col. Kevin McKenna, Belvoir's Hq. Bn.

commander, initiated efforts to develop a team.

This included bringing together key members from other installation agencies, like the Staff Judge Advocate, Army Community Services, the Directorate of Human Resources and the Chaplain's Office.

With everyone on board, Blixt approved the team's plan and Humphrey began working with Carol Janer, Care Team organizer, and others from ACS on recruiting and training.

"As we continue to move forward, it's our hope to assert our presence in the community and educate the public on what a Care Team can and can't do," Humphrey said. "We're the only Care Team in the National Capital Region, so we hope others hear of our group and are inspired enough to start Care Teams at other installations. That would be fantastic."

Since its inception nine months ago, Belvoir's Care Team has grown to 10 volunteers. In December, the group assisted a handful of families in Woodlawn Village after their homes caught fire. The group's contributions have also extended outside of Fairfax County.

When hearing the news that Maj. L. Eduardo Caraveo, one of 13 Soldiers killed during November's tragic Fort Hood shooting was a resident of Woodbridge, Humphrey said Belvoir's Casualty Assistance Office informed her the family had accepted their offer of support.

Without hesitation, Flowers and Hoffman dropped what they were doing and rushed to the Caraveo home.

"While Tammy helped the three kids, I took messages, prepared dinners and did other household chores. One of the things we're taught as volunteers is to log all the phone calls. In the first three days, I remember having close to 10 pages of calls," Hoffman said. "The family has enough to deal with. As a military spouse myself, it hurts to see them hurting. You just want to do as much as you can to help raise the family up."

For anyone interested in becoming a Care Team volunteer, Janer said the process first begins by filling out an application at ACS. An interview follows and, if selected, individuals receive a one-day training session on various support issues.

Janer emphasizes the need for volunteers to have the life skills to handle certain situations.

"We must keep the family protected at all times. That means having a certain maturity level," Janer said. "Soldiers take pride helping one another. Our focus is to do the same thing and offer added support wherever we can."

Capt. Andrea So, former commander of Belvoir's Headquarters and Headquarters Company - Special Activities, has worked with the installation's Care Team and is grateful to have such a valuable program on post.

"Working with them has been a pleasure because they are so motivated to do this mission and to provide a high standard of support," So added. "It would be great to see it expand within the garrison and, perhaps, the National Capital Region."