By Ben Abel/Special to the ParaglideOctober 21, 2011
It would be difficult to find a closer partnership between a military installation and its surrounding communities than the one Fort Bragg shares with the cities of Fayetteville, Hope Mills and Spring Lake.
But after 10 years of sustained combat operations by Fort Bragg servicemembers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations across the globe, signs of wear on the force and their Families are starting to show. But Fort Bragg's partners outside the post's gates are rallying to ensure that the Families who have sacrificed are bolstered against the demands of military life.
To redouble community efforts, more than 200 men and women who provide counseling, education and other support services, gathered Oct. 13, at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville for the second Forward March conference to help find ways to assist military Families during challenging times.
Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne opened the conference by acknowledging military Families' sacrifices.
"War is where our neighbors go to defend our freedoms," Chavonne said.
John T. Bigger, administrator at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center, organized both years' conferences.
"Two years ago when the base realignment started, there was a tremendous need out there to more effectively interact with the military population -- that wasn't happening prior to this and we noticed that there were significant mental health issues," Bigger said.
"Unfortunately you hear stories about those people who aren't functioning well and the problems they are having, but you don't hear about the things that are working. This is an example of one of the things that works." he said.
Bigger highlighted two major outcomes from the conferences. First, a follow-on conference was established after the first Forward March conference in 2010, for mental and behavioral health professionals from Fort Bragg to meet with their community counterparts to discuss trends in behavioral heath treatment across the region. The second success of the conferences is the creation of the Behavioral Health Association where treatment professionals routinely meet to share their experiences.
Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, gave a presentation about the program to raise awareness of the Army's efforts to make Soldiers and Family members more psychologically, emotionally and spiritually prepared for the rigors of uniformed service. The program is designed for Soldiers to employ in their lives, with the help of master resiliency trainers -- Soldiers with more training embedded at the unit level to assist with program implementation.
Cornum encouraged the audience to find ways to help Families use the training resources afforded by the CSF program through the existing Family Global Assessment Tool, which mirrors the Global Assessment Tool used by Soldiers to evaluate resiliency and build life skills.
Web-based training for Families soon to be rolled out by CSF include Teen Resilience and Remaining Faithful in Relationships, and will be available at http://csf.army.mil/.
The Army's top doctor, Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, spoke about the Army's broader efforts to help address the stresses on Families. Schoomaker said the Army Family is under continuous stress but added that the Family unit is still extraordinarily strong because of the Army Family.
Schoomaker noted that CSF is not a medical or behavioral heath program, but a commander's program, aimed at ensuring the effectiveness of the men and women at the unit level.
He lauded the early successes of the Patient Centered Medical Home program (the Fort Bragg community has two, community-based medical homes) which groups primary care providers, nurses and pharmacists in locations central to large populations of servicemembers' Families off-post.
The Fort Bragg Garrison commander, Col. Stephen Sicinski, underscored the importance of the conference, noting that more than 31,000 Fort Bragg Families reside outside of the gates and explained some of the differences in the demographic of the on-post residents versus off-post residents, meaning that the health, education and community services requirements are different for the two groups.
Families who live on-post, Sicinski said, are generally younger, the servicemember (or members) have less time in service than their counterparts who live off-post and tend to have more children.
Those in uniform, who have crossed the 10-year threshold, Sicinski said, are less likely to succumb to the pitfalls of stress, such as depression, anger management issues, substance abuse and domestic violence.
And among all demographic groups of those serving in uniform, Sicinski said, none is more challenged than dual military Families. He noted that balancing duty and Family is a "special slice of hell -- it's hard, hard, hard." However, he reminded the conference attendees that Army Families are resilient.
"Army Families are not to be pitied," Sicinski said.