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News: Getting comfortable with uncertainty: Family life on GRF

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Getting comfortable with uncertainty: Family life on GRF Sgt. William Reinier

A paratrooper’s spouse jumps from the 34-foot-tower at the advanced airborne school for the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division’s GI Spouse Day held on Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 10. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Reinier, 2/82 PAO)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - How can families on a military base in North Carolina affect events on the other side of the world? They can by being the strength and support of paratroopers serving the Global Response Force mission. For the last year, service members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, awoke every day ready to be called anywhere in the world on short notice.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has said: "The strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our soldiers. The strength of our soldiers is our families. This is what makes us 'Army Strong.’"

The unique level of preparedness employed by Falcon Families over the last 10 months marks a key strength behind the nation's GRF.

For many of the brigade’s paratroopers, the last year at home was likely a welcome change from ten years of global war on terror deployment rotations. However, the GRF cycle entails many of the same preparations and expectations as a combat deployment. Despite having their loved ones stateside, many Falcon families experienced similar challenges, as well as some new ones.

A deployment is usually planned so a person can feel more mentally ready, said Jessica Jones, whose husband is a company commander and has deployed twice to Afghanistan.

“The good thing about GRF is that he’s home,” she said. “Deployment is always worse.”

With the constant possibility of her spouse being deployed with no notice, Jones said she could put the fear in the back of her mind and learned to be comfortable with uncertainty.

Although prepared to deploy at any time, it is necessary for the GRF brigade to maintain combat proficiency through frequent and often arduous field training.

“They’re always training and always ready to go,” said Jones. “All of the training adds a lot more hours and weeks away from home.”

One aspect of readiness tests the brigade’s ability to quickly respond to a recall. Unfortunately, these recalls can impact some family plans. In the event of actual orders to deploy, even troops on leave have to be ready to go.

“Recalls can come any time of day, any day of the week,” said Amethyst Albert, a company family readiness group leader for the 407th Brigade Support Battalion. “Today is Friday and they could be in combat Sunday.”

Adding to the stress are the employment requirements of the non-military spouse. Should the paratrooper get recalled and their spouse is at work, there may be a need to arrange quick care for their children.

“It already takes a lot of planning to operate a family,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Albert, Amethyst’s husband and a mechanic assigned to the 407th. “You really need to have your game plan and if you don’t, somebody, somewhere, is going to get their feelings hurt.”

The training and recall considerations can cause added stress to the families’ children as well.

Staff Sgt. Albert remembered coming home after a particularly difficult and busy field training exercise and heading immediately into a nap on the couch. His son was excited to see him but long days of sparse sleep forced the father to rest instead. Attempting an explanation didn’t stop the young child’s tears.

“It did hurt our child’s feelings,” said Amethyst with a wry smile.

“He gave me the cold shoulder for a week,” said Justin with a light chuckle.

Although disappointed, his child brought Justin blankets and stuffed animals and did his best to make his father comfortable. This is one demonstration of how small acts can support the paratrooper and thus, the mission.

Another consideration are the spouses that choose to move back to their hometowns when their troop is deployed. With no notice for a GRF deployment however, they could find that move impossible to plan, said Amethyst.

The Albert family’s advice for troops serving on the GRF is to get involved with the FRG.

Amethyst said that units with no scheduled overseas tour may have families that don’t consider their FRG as necessary. Some families may also be accustomed to easy access to their deployed spouse thanks to the availability of internet and cell phones. Unfortunately that technology may not exist in a location the contingency force deploys to at first, if at all.

When communication with their paratrooper isn’t possible, the FRG can be the support system a family needs, stressed Amethyst.

Unit events like formal balls and holiday parties can help develop camaraderie among families and paratroopers. Many units offer their families the opportunity to observe airborne operations or invite them to participate in “day in the life of a Paratrooper” events. Also called GI Spouse days, they are designed to bring units and families together.

“I think it [GI Spouse Day] allows the spouse to see what their Soldier goes through on a daily basis,” said Amethyst. “You may forget how strenuous your Soldier’s day is too.”

Albert and his wife agreed that events like those help to build altruism between families similar to that experienced by the soldiers.

“Not only does it give them that perspective of what it’s like to wear those boots, but it brings a mental and physical closeness together of soldier and spouse,” he said.

Justin also stated that fun events encourage family participation in FRG programs, making the sharing of information more effective.

“Its much more interesting than sitting in an auditorium listening to someone talk with thousands of slide shows,” said Justin.

The FRG meetings and emails can combat inaccurate information. However, rumors can spring up when trouble occurs somewhere in the world.

“I try to avoid speculation; there’s no way to know,” said Jones. “There’s always rumors and it’s better to just not speculate.”

Families also develop ways to adapt to a mission cycle that can be disruptive to routines.

Amethyst ensures a dedicated car seat, stroller and diaper bag are always packed in both of their vehicles. If Justin had to respond to a recall and one vehicle was stuck on post, she wouldn’t need to retrieve their baby gear.

“It’s a pain to not have a car seat in both vehicles,” said Amethyst.

She also has childcare already arranged in communities where she is required to travel for her job as an education adviser. If her husband is called up, she can continue to do her job with her prior-emplaced contingency plans.

Justin said that troops might be accustomed to the soldier readiness processing program to take care of family needs before a deployment. While on GRF, however, families should remain vigilant with their paperwork.

Keep paperwork prepared. Have both of your wills done. Have a power of attorney and ensure both spouses have access to all of the finances. Take care of the medical stuff and always have a contingency plan for your children, he listed.

“Make sure there is good communication,” added Amethyst.

In spite of the challenges associated with the GRF mission, families are generally thankful that their troops are at home most of the time. Lucy Blake, whose husband has served on multiple deployments, says she can find comfort in the scheduled start and end dates of the GRF cycle. Her biggest priority is for them to spend quality time together when they can.

“I don’t know if he’s coming home; he has to have his bags packed 24/7,” said Blake. “Fortunately, there’s also the possibility of him being home at night.”

“It’s nice to have him home before dinner,” she said.

On Oct. 1, the Falcon Brigade officially handed over the GRF mission responsibility to the 3rd BCT.


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Public Domain Mark
This work, Getting comfortable with uncertainty: Family life on GRF, by SSG Jason Hull, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:10.27.2013

Date Posted:10.28.2013 02:20

Location:FORT BRAGG, NC, USGlobe

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These Army families seem to thrive in the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade as the Pegasus brigade is represented by three of the five families who are finalists for the 2012 Fort Bragg Family of the Year.

The Trotter, Miller and Buckhalt Families were recognized by XVIII Airborne Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn and his wife, Debbie, during the Fort Bragg Family of the Year award ceremony at Fort Bragg, Nov. 6.

“The nominations are a testament to how much the 82nd CAB families were invested during our most recent deployment. Deployments are the times when people can shine and they’re really needed,” said 82nd CAB Chaplain (Maj.) Stanton Trotter.

Stanton, his wife Lauri and their two daughters, Sierra, 8, and Hannah, 6, make up one of the 82nd CAB finalist families. Along with the husbands from the other two families, Stanton spent the better half of 2012 deployed to Afghanistan.

During his time overseas, Stanton, of La Palma, Calif., always found time to call home via Skype to talk with Lauri and the girls. He credits this commitment to allot time for each other to their family’s success.

“My hope is that others see that we focus on our family first,” Stanton said. “That is what charges the battery of our family.”

Though there were times when Sierra and Hannah missed their father, Lauri, of Woodbridge, Va., helped the girls to understand the family commitment. 

“I think the girls are learning that what we have in the military is a choice, and with that choice there are some sacrifices that come, but we as a family make that choice.” Lauri said. “When we can remember it really was our choice, it helps to get through some of those less pleasant times, the late hours, deployments and whatever else.” 

The Millers, with the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, were also finalists for the family of the year. Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Miller and his wife Stephanie, of Allentown, Pa., have four children: Kathryn, 15, Julian, 13, Elizabeth, 10, and Abigail, 8. Miller is the chaplain for the 122nd ASB, and has been in the Army for two and a half years.

Although this is his first duty station since joining the Army, Miller and his wife are no strangers to military life.  Miller is a former Marine who served from 1992 to 1996. Serving in her own right, Stephanie has volunteered as a Family Readiness Group Advisor with the 122nd ASB for the past two years.

“Being relatively new to the Army, the Millers bring fresh energy to the 82nd CAB families,” Lauri said.

Eric and his wife consider themselves down-to-earth people with a normal family and life.  They were both very surprised and humbled when they received news they were nominated for the family of the year.

“We were shocked and consider it a huge honor.  We are ‘Team Miller’ and we just want to help where we can,” said Stephanie. “I believe every family is the family of the year.  If you have to walk in the shoes of a military Soldier, spouse or child, you understand how much sacrifice there is.  Parents have to work hard to keep the family together and on track, and kids have to endure the loss of their parent for long periods of time.  I believe military families are a special type of family and they all deserve to be recognized.”

As an Army Chaplain, Eric can share his understanding of family with many Soldiers.

“The key is to have a solid base at home that will help keep things going even when you can’t be there,” Eric said.  “I am blessed to have Stephanie.  She is a strong woman.  She has kept things together and running as normal as possible even when I can’t be here.  My children are strong and understand what it takes for me to do my job.  I could not do what I do without their support and understanding.”

With their years of military service on both sides of the table, the Buckhalts both know what it is like to support and understand a military spouse.

Capt. Allen Buckhalt is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot who serves as the commander for Company B, 2nd Aviation Assault Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. His wife, Maj. (Ret.) Bonnie Buckhalt, leads the company Family Readiness Group. The Buckhalt’s son, Joel, 18, is a member of the National Honor Society and the Varsity Soccer Team at Jack Britton High School. Their daughter, Ava, 4, played a big role helping Bonnie as she packed treats and care packages to send 82nd CAB Troopers during their deployment.

Allen, originally from Miami, believes the values that have strengthened his family have helped him in his role as a commander.

“What I’ve learned from my family I’ve applied to my military family,” Allen said. “Respect, love and taking care of one another are principles that are important to any successful family and team.”
Bonnie, a retired officer who grew up in a military family in Killeen, Texas, has experienced all sides of Army life.

“I have never had a phase of my life where the military hasn’t been a part of it. This whole process has made me reflect on my experience in the military and as a family member. During this time where the Army has deployed pretty often, I have been able to see how the family members must remain close to one another and support other families in the unit.”

As the Family Readiness Group leader for her husband’s company, Bonnie gets to know many of her unit’s family members first hand. This involvement guides Bonnie to understand her own family’s nomination as a depiction of her greater community. 

“It was humbling to be a finalist for the Fort Bragg Family of the Year,” Bonnie said. “We know so many tremendous families and we are honored to represent them.” 

Perhaps it is this pervasive modesty, expressed by the Trotters, Millers and Buckhalts, that makes the Army Family an icon so universally understood – a model with which soldiers and their loved ones so easily identify themselves on a daily basis.

This family identity will serve the 82nd CAB well as the brigade transforms to support the U.S. global response force, reshaping a conventional unit to a rapidly-deployable aviation asset, capable of responding to a wide variety of humanitarian and combat missions around the world with little notice.

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