By Sgt. Terence EwingsMarch 19, 2013
FORT BLISS, Texas - As a soldier, former military service member or spouse it can be difficult to relate to or understand the Army or any military lifestyle.
In an effort to "connect families to the Army", Department of Defense personnel and volunteers teach family members and soldiers through the educational readiness training known as the Army Family Team Building program.
The AFTB program is designed to teach family members and soldiers the tools to survive and thrive in the military lifestyle, and is offered at every military installation.
"Whether you know it or not you have duties as a military spouse," said Cheryl Weslen, a military spouse from Arlington, Texas. "You have to be able to understand Army regulations, rank and [military] acronyms. These classes within the program empower you to learn and become a more capable person, and be the best you can be as a military spouse."
Weslen initially learned about the class during a deployment readiness group. Being a relatively new Army wife, the group leaders suggested Weslen attend the AFTB classes to further her knowledge of the military.
"This is just one of the many programs that I was referred to so that I could learn more about the military, but I enjoyed this one the most because it gives you a basic foundation of military life," said Weslen.
Through three different levels of training, students attending the AFTB classes learn how to implement available community resources, translate Army terminology and acronyms, develop realistic expectations of the military and utilize basic problem solving measures in their everyday lives.
Level I is designed to introduce individuals to the Army way of life. Level II teaches students about personal growth and discusses topics such as communication, stress management, and creative problem solving. While Level III allows students to develop their leadership skills and focuses on how to coach and mentor another military family member.
"The first day of the Level 1 class, I walked into the class thinking I already knew a lot because I had been a military spouse for some time then, but I was amazed at all the things I didn't know and how much I learned over a small period of time," said Gigi Winburn, program assistant for AFTB.
After graduating from the AFTB program, Winburn went on to instruct and assist in coordinating future classes for students. Prior to graduating the month-long program, students must complete all three levels of training.
"I fell in love with the program," said Winburn, a native of Vidalia, Ga. "Not only do we get the opportunity to teach our students about the different aspects of military life, but we also get to bond with one another. It's more than just a set of classes; it's like we have our own little fraternity here."
The classes are evenly spread out throughout the month, and students are given the option of attending weekday, night or weekend classes so they have the opportunity to fit classes into their daily routines. The program also provides free child care for parents who want to attend weekday classes.
"We do everything in our power to reach out and help one another," said Winburn. "Every now and then we also have a soldier that has taken the course who comes in and instructs a class or two."
Sgt. Edward A. Garibay, a public affairs specialist assigned to the 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, is one of the many soldiers that has completed the program and returned to pass on his military knowledge to other members of the Fort Bliss community.
"It feels good to be able to help these guys," said Garibay. "We're just giving these students the tools they need to be successful in life."
The AFTB program also introduces participants to other Army Community Service programs like the Family Readiness Group, Family Financial Readiness and Military OneSource programs.
The Fort Bliss AFTB program is also preparing for it's semiannual Basket Bingo benefit, April 27, where all proceeds will be donated to the AFTB child care and incentive program.
Members of the Fort Bliss community that are interested in these programs or others can find more information at http://blissmwr.com.