By Julia Bobick, Recruiting CommandMarch 14, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. (March 14, 2013) -- "If it has to do with Soldiers' and Families' morale, welfare or well-being, it's my lane." This is how Dena Hallman sums up her role as a recruiting battalion Soldier and Family Assistance program manager.
In U.S. Army Recruiting Command's, or USAREC's, geographically dispersed command, leaders, Soldiers and families alike rely heavily on their Soldier and Family Assistance program manager, or SFA, to fill the shoes of an entire Army Community Service office. Located in each recruiting brigade and battalion headquarters, a single SFA provides his or her families the whole gamut of services available on an installation, to include relocation and spouse employment assistance, sponsorship training, Exceptional Family Member support, Army Family Team Building volunteer management, financial readiness and consumer affairs programs, TRICARE assistance and child care.
"We want to ensure every Soldier and family member knows that USAREC truly cares about them, and they are a part of our USAREC family," said Frankie Stull, USAREC's chief of Soldier and family assistance here on Fort Knox. "Our SFAs help make that happen."
Stull said that while the command has developed detailed information products like the USAREC Family Strong Resource Guide to help families become more self-sufficient and remain resilient in its geo-dispersed environment, it is the 43 battalion and 6 brigade SFAs who provide Soldiers and families individual assistance finding answers and resolving issues.
Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion SFA Jo Kinchington said probably the most important service SFAs provide is also the broadest: information and referral. If a family needs to know where to go or what to do to engage in community resources, SFAs should be their first stop.
"Families need to know we are doing our best to connect them with the services they need in the civilian community," said Kinchington. "Our folks are scattered in some pretty remote areas, and they need to feel linked both to their communities and to the battalion. My goal is to facilitate that link."
Battalion SFAs have comprehensive knowledge of the services in their areas and maintain a vast network within their communities and with each other, according to Kinchington, whose battalion area encompasses more than 500,000 square miles and all or part of six states. By also partnering with National Guard, Reserve, Corps of Engineers, community agencies and other military branches near their units they are able to provide comprehensive support to USAREC Families.
"If you ask a Soldier or his family what the most important service is that I provide you'll get a different answer depending on the needs of that family," said Hallman, the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion SFA. "For the spouse who's looking for a job, my links with military-friendly employers who send me their job announcements is the most important service. For the family getting billed for a medical service and don't know why, it's my health benefits adviser role that means the most to them. For most families, the most important service I provide is the one that meets the needs they have right now, and that need may change several times during their tenure in our battalion."
One of the biggest challenges SFAs face is keeping in touch with families; many take advantage of social networking tools to reach out and keep families informed.
"Most families maintain email or Facebook accounts, and this greatly improves my ability to interact with them and to be aware of what might be going on in their lives," Kinchington said. "I also use social media to host discussion groups and training with volunteers and family members that otherwise would be impossible."
Despite the challenges, Hallman said she has the best job in a recruiting battalion.
"Every day brings a new challenge and a new opportunity to help someone," she said. "Recruiters have this amazing mission which involves changing lives. They may not always realize it, but they have the power to change generations of lives simply by putting someone in the Army. And I feel blessed to be able to provide support to these Soldiers while they're doing this life-changing job."
Kinchington also considers the job extremely rewarding. Both agree they have countless stories of Army Strong Families who have made indelible impacts on their lives.
"There are so many families in USAREC who have been such an inspiration to me, and that inspiration is what keeps me in this job," Kinchington said. "Every day they remind me why I am here."