FORT BRAGG, N.C. - During deployments, the Family readiness group takes on multiple responsibilities for loved ones who remain here behind.

These duties may require the group leaders to exhibit leadership and counseling skills similar to senior military leaders.

FRG leaders from various units on post learned to perform those duties more efficiently during a conference which took place Tuesday at the Fort Bragg Club.

The conference began at 9:30 a.m. at which time Task Force Bragg commander Maj. Gen. Rodney O. Anderson welcomed all the members.

During his presentation, Hal Runkel, a world-renowned expert on helping Families to face conflict and create great relationships, gave the FRG members various scenarios, many of them based on his own experience with his children, and he explained how he handled them.

Runkel is an author, licensed therapist and founder of the Screamfree Institute, which helps parents to cope with everyday issues involving children. He also explained why he made his decision, how his kids reacted, and what the consequences could have been.

"The hallmark of being a grown-up is learning to manage the anxieties of life so that we can make better decisions," Runkel said during the conference. "When you think about it, isn't that what we want most for our kids - to learn to manage their emotions, manage the anxieties in life by showing they can make good decisions. Well, unfortunately, they're not going to learn that until we do."

Runkel's messages, which were often humorous, allowed those in attendance to relate their issues to his examples.

Also, during a break in the conference, Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, now Multi-national Corps-Iraq commander, spoke with the FRG members via teleconference.
"We've got 800 Soldiers from the XVIII Airborne Corps that are here and who are working as part of the United States Forces-Iraq staff," he said, amidst many teary eyes in the audience. "...

Command Sgt. Maj. (Earl) Rice and I and all of us here are doing everything we can to make sure that everybody comes home safely. That's one of our top priorities here in Baghdad."

Helmick acknowledged that more problems in the world mean more requirements for military members and in turn, more requirements for Family members back home. He added that the FRGs make a difference during various situations that may occur as Soldiers are deployed.

"The challenges that we face today here in Iraq and around the world ..., our Army answers the call and that also means that the Families that are left behind are also challenged," Helmick said. "That's the reason the FRGs are so important. They provide that umbrella to assist a Family in need and many of you have already experienced that a number of times.

"A Family may need something and they don't know where to go, but they participate in the FRG and they have access to programs on the installation there at Fort Bragg. You lead them to success. You help them with that and you go the extra mile to make a difference in their lives. A lot of times you don't get thanked, but you know you've made a difference for that Family. So, I want to thank you for that and that's what makes our Army strong. You can't have a strong Army without having supportive Families and you can't have Families with problems. The FRG is there to help solve those problems and make a difference," he added.

Helmick's wife, Melissa, was also in attendance at the conference. She said conferences like these and the skills that were taught are necessary for FRG leaders.

"It's important for two reasons, I think, to have a conference where they are taught and able to learn about all of the available programs and things that help them to be good FRG leaders in their role," she said. "That's a good thing. This conference is a little bit different this time and our intent was to wrap our arms around these FRG leaders and volunteers who do an amazing job and give them skills to help them have an easier time of it, or an easier life."

Much of Runkel's presentation dealt with decreasing stress levels. Melissa said she thought that was important, especially based on the duties of FRG leaders during deployments. She pointed out that they have many roles.

"They're spouses, parents and oftentimes as FRG leaders, they take on the role of single parents and they're also caring for other Families," Melissa said. "So it's really quite a mission that they have, where they're supporting other Families as well as their own. It increases their stress levels."

Julie McRee, wife of Col. Chad McRee, Fort Bragg's top law enforcement official, said she also thought the training was necessary for FRG leaders.

"I think it's very important in many facets for them to be here. Number one, to gain the skills that are being expressed and they can take that back, not only for themselves, but also that they can share with FRGs because they're looked at as leaders. Also, it's validating what they're doing as FRG leaders."

McRee said the FRG leaders in attendance would be able to take lessons learned at the conference back to their FRGs and they can use the lessons as tools to deal with fellow Family members.

"I think it's great that Fort Bragg is putting this on for the FRG leaders to say, 'we validate what you do, we support what you do and continue to do the great job that you're doing out there,'" she added.

Becky Gadberry is one of the newer FRG leaders. As the mother of two, she said attending the conference is providing her with valuable lessons that she can use personally, but she'll also be able to help others in her XVIII Abn. Corps Family Readiness Group.

"I'm learning a lot," she said. "These are skill that will allow me to better myself as a parent and I'll be able to pass those skills on to any frustrated parents who may come to me."