ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2007) Aca,!" This West Virginia National Guard family readiness assistant ought to know a thing or two about her job: five members of Cathy HammackAca,!a,,cs family are serving in Iraq.

Her husband, two sons, brother-in-law and son-in-law all are serving with the 111th Engineer Brigade. ThatAca,!a,,cs Sgt. Maj. Keith Hammack, husband; Capt. Keith Hammack, Jr., son; Spc. Casey Hammack, son; Sgt. Roy Hammack, brother-in-law, and Sgt. Casey Phalen, son-in-law.

Aca,!A"Working with family programs helps me,Aca,!A? Mrs. Hammack said. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs the only thing that keeps me sane. I have a good support network with my real family, my military family and my work family.Aca,!A?

She assists Family Readiness Group leaders across the state of West Virginia.

You could say military service is a Hammack family value, but Cathy Hammack also says the family has reaped rewards. Aca,!A"The three oldest are benefiting from that Guard [college] tuition,Aca,!A? she said.

She married into the National Guard when she was 17. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs always been a part of my life, my whole married life,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cve been married three-quarters of my life, so itAca,!a,,cs always been there.Aca,!A?

The multiple deployments werenAca,!a,,ct an accident. Some of the family volunteered when they heard others were going. Aca,!A"If I want to go, I want to go with dad,Aca,!A? Spc. Hammack told his mother. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm going to have to go eventually.Aca,!A?

Cathy Hammack was in Virginia in mid-November for joint family support assistance program training, which she said emphasized the resources available for National Guard families.

She said support for National Guard families in her home state starts at the top. Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett, West VirginiaAca,!a,,cs adjutant general, and his wife Sallie Pat make a point of reaching out to Guardmembers, she said.
Aca,!A"They know everybody,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"They know all the West Virginia troops. They get out there and meet them. He is so behind family programs. It makes it easier on our Soldiers and our families to know that when theyAca,!a,,cre gone theyAca,!a,,cre going to be taken care of from the top down in our state.Aca,!A?

In her job, Cathy Hammack says she sees Guard families who need financial assistance, who are stressed because a family member is deployed for a second time and there are young children, or who face a family emergency. Her office offers help Aca,!" and encouragement.

Aca,!A"We teach the families to be self-reliant,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"Take care of themselves.Aca,!A? SheAca,!a,,cs been overheard telling another Guard wife, Aca,!A"Put on your big-girl pants and step up to the plate.Aca,!A?

HammackAca,!a,,cs five have been in Iraq since August 2007. The Eleanor-based 111th Engineer Brigade (combat engineers) is expected to be deployed for about one year.

Perhaps counter-intuitive, Cathy Hammack said sheAca,!a,,cs glad her family is together. Aca,!A"I feel safer with them all together,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"They have their own family network over there.Aca,!A?

Besides, she said commanders avoid exposing the five to danger at once. Aca,!A"They wonAca,!a,,ct let them stay in the same place,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"TheyAca,!a,,cre never allowed to be in the same vehicle. They donAca,!a,,ct let them go on the same missions, usually. TheyAca,!a,,cre not allowed to fly on the same plane, but with five of them they only had three planes from West Virginia [when they mobilized.]Aca,!A?

The Hammacks use e-mail and Webcams to stay in touch. Aca,!A"The WebcamAca,!a,,cs nice,Aca,!A? Cathy Hammack said. Aca,!A"You can see their faces, and you can see their rooms Aca,!" and the five boxes of stuff that I sent them that are still unopened.Aca,!A?

Her daughter, Christina Phalen, isnAca,!a,,ct deployed Aca,!" but she hasnAca,!a,,ct broken the family tradition. SheAca,!a,,cs a full-time staff sergeant in the Air National Guard.

Military service is a long-standing Hammack tradition. Sgt. Maj. HammackAca,!a,,cs father was in the Air Force and National Guard; Cathy HammackAca,!a,,cs father was in the Air Force.

Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm really proud of all of them,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cre just patriotic people. YouAca,!a,,cve got to have a love of country in order to go through this many deployments. I couldnAca,!a,,ct do this without the support of my military family and my regular family. I couldnAca,!a,,ct do it without this great support network.Aca,!A?

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau)