ANSBACH, Germany - Separation is a fact of life for military families, and U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach Army Community Service wants to help people get through it.

Hearts Apart is a monthly program designed to do just that said Pam Thomas, Ansbach's acting ACS deployment readiness program manager and coordinator for the program.

Thomas said the mission of the program is to provide a quality educational and informational forum that promotes self-empowerment, social networking, community support and self-reliance that minimizes the impact of deployment and separation.

The program also supports the goal of the former commander of the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, Brig. Gen. Belinda Pinckney, who wrote in a letter last year when announcing the program, "It is essential for Families to have the resources to cope while their Soldier is away and for Soldiers to know their Families are being cared for at home."

Thomas explained that the program is flexible, needs focused and driven, and customizable to meet the needs of the community. Officials will conduct needs assessments prior to every conference and tailor program topics to those considerations.

"The program is pretty new," Thomas said. "It has been in effect DoD wide since June of 2007, but USAG Ansbach ACS has been working on plans for it here since October."

Hearts Apart is a collaborative effort between the chaplaincy, ACS and other community agencies.

A wide range of topics on how to better manage the time apart and cope with stress will be considered for each meeting. Thomas said some possible topics are employment, child care, healthcare, nutrition, exercise and education. In addition, a panel of experts - like Military Family Life consultants - will be on hand to provide briefings and answer spouses' questions.

Another possible topic is spiritual fitness, which will include a chaplain speaking on an assortment of topics. However, Thomas said that just because a topic of that nature may arise, it does not mean the meetings are strictly religious based where a chaplain will try to push religion on participants.

"We want people to know that this is not a religion-based event and that the chaplain is not here to change your beliefs - they are here to share their knowledge, offer guidance and communication skills to help people cope with the deployment," she said. "It is important that attendees be comfortable and focused during the meetings."

Chaplain (Maj.) Juan Crocket, USAG Ansbach Family Life Chaplain, said the purpose of the program and the reason for a chaplain to be on hand is to support the cause and to be there for those who need guidance -religious or otherwise.

"This is an ACS program and what the program is designed to do is help spouses and Soldiers to stay connected," Crockett said. "It keeps them connected and our role is to synergize [the program effort with ACS], and equip both spouses and Soldiers with the essential skills and tools they need to maintain and sustain their relationships through communication before the Soldier returns from deployment.

"We are here for them if there is a need, and to meet the needs of spouses, we are helping bridge the gap," Crockett said.

Thomas noted that it is an open-forum type of discussion and not too structured.

"It has to be," she said. "Otherwise, it loses some of the discussion elasticity that is necessary - and we do not want to cut someone off and lose that person to happenstance."

Leah Kelly, Family Readiness Group leader for 5-158th Aviation and participant in the program, knows firsthand that life during deployment can be challenging. She said Hearts Apart gives her a chance to circulate more.

"This program helps me get out of the house more, connect with other spouses, and see what they are going through and realize I am not alone," Kelly said. "As an FRG leader, it helps me communicate with other spouses to get out as well and attend, and let them know that there is a support group out here for us."

She added that Hearts Apart gives spouses a chance to network, talk to other spouses and tap into the resources ACS provides.