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NEWS | March 5, 2013

Army, Air Guard units recognized for outstanding family support programs

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - Units from the Air and Army National Guard were recognized recently for outstanding family readiness programs as part of the Reserve Family Readiness Awards ceremony at the Pentagon.

The Texas Air National Guard’s 147th Reconnaissance Wing and the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 842nd Engineer Company received awards at the event.

 “Your efforts build a true family support network in support of unit readiness,” said John Hastings, principal deputy, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, during the ceremony. “You’re here because you’ve been chosen as the best among the best. “

But, the road to being recognized as the best of the best was one that took a lot of effort.

“It’s the family members who really are the backbone of the unit,” said Capt. Matthew Sadler, commander of the 842nd Engineer Company. “The actions that the family members took to come together and support the unit is really what got us here.”

For members of the 842nd Engineer Company, that support from family members, bolstered by the unit’s family support group, was one of the things that got the unit through a recent deployment to Afghanistan.

“If you have a strong family readiness leader like we did, they can kind of marshal the family members and help them get through those times together,” Sadler said.

The need for a strong family readiness group was something the company’s former commander, who commanded the unit while it was deployed, noticed during a previous deployment.

“During (the commander’s) previous deployment, he saw that 40 percent of Soldier issues were related to families,” said Army Lt. Gen. William Ingram, director of the Army National Guard, during the event. “He wanted to change that.”

The result, said Ingram, was that during this recent deployment 5 percent of Soldier issues were family related, the result of having a strong family support group.

For members of the 147th RW, there was a different challenge to providing family support. In addition to unit members physically deploying overseas, they also deploy to home station as well where they fly the MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft.  The unit transitioned in 2008 from flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the Predator mission.

“It puts a different tone on what we do from the F-16 mission because they left and did their missions,” said Mona-Lisa Norton, family support leader for the wing. “Our guys are at home station and do their mission 24/ 7, 365.”
That means a greater focus on building resilience rather that sponsoring events to bring family members together, said Norton.

“It’s more about the resiliency side of it because when you deploy you go do your job and then you have downtime,” she said. “For us, now, they do the same thing but they’re going home to watch “Johnny” play baseball or they get the phone call to stop and get milk. When you’re overseas, you don’t get that.”

Part of building that resiliency is trying to find a balance.

“Now we’re just trying to find the balance,” said Norton. “How do we take care of them and their families? Because, they can’t go home and talk about what they do (as part of the mission) either.”

Norton said that she and her office work to provide service members and their families with additional resources to build and maintain that resilience.

And for the family support group, being recognized for their efforts is a great honor.

“This is very, very humbling, said Norton. “There are 91 of me for the Air Guard and in no way was this done by myself. It takes a whole team to do this. My base has just been totally supportive and I’m absolutely overwhelmed. I’m speechless.”