News: Pentagon honors South Dakota Guard Family Readiness Group
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Theanne Tangen
WASHINGTON – Many soldiers of the South Dakota Army National Guard can feel overwhelmed with anxiety and stress when they say goodbye to their parents, spouse or children before stepping onto a plane headed toward a combat zone.
The stress can be caused by a number of things including the soldier’s concern for his or her loved ones well-being, but with help from the Family Readiness Group their stress is reduced.
The 235th Military Police Company FRG leaders Christina Schmit, Janna Christiansen and Liz Whitrock helped alleviate stress by building relationships between the wives, parents, children and grandparents before during and after the company’s nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Not only were new relationships born but an exceptional FRG group was formed earning the 2013 Department of Defense Reserve Family Readiness Award for the National Guard at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Mr. John Hastings presented the awardees with a commemorative plaque and framed certificate along with a cash award from the Military Officers Association of America. The cash award is to be used to further enhance the unit’s family support programs.
The RFRA recognizes one National Guard and Reserve unit from each of the seven Reserve components with the best programs to support their families. The program was established in 2000 to recognize the top unit Family Readiness program in each Reserve component that demonstrated outstanding family readiness while maintaining superior mission readiness.
One reason the FRG became a success is due to achieving the commander’s goal of providing a friendly environment that encouraged people to participate in unit activities.
“My goal for the Family Readiness Group was to give families a chance to build relationships with each other, with someone who could relate to their issues,” said Capt. Thadius Schmit, 235th commander. “Trying to get through a deployment alone is difficult. Families sacrifice so much; I wanted to give people ways to deal with the deployment without feeling alone.”
Christina Schmit explains how she contributed to the FRG as the commander’s wife and lead volunteer.
“I developed a whole new family and support structure,” said Christina, 235th FRG lead volunteer and wife of the commander. “The mission I fulfilled was to keep the families abreast of information and give them a sense of support. When the families felt supported then the soldiers could focus on their mission.”
The FRG met more than 30 times throughout the year hosting or participating in social events to include: baby shower welcoming the newest 235th family members; decorated a float for the Veteran’s Day parade; sent more than 200 care packages to the Soldiers and Heroes Wear Blue memorial 5K run.
The FRG did more than fun activities together they were also inspired to come up with a tangible fitness goal called “Run Them Home,” which gained local and national news coverage.
Corey Wieczorek, girlfriend of 235th member Spc. Bronson Odle, came up with the concept for the FRG to run 13,894 miles, the round-trip distance between the unit’s headquarters, in Rapid City to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where the unit was stationed.
The FRG surpassed their goal in November by reaching 14,533.99 miles, an entire month before the 235th returned.
“When a group of people is faced with adversity they gel and form a bond that is pretty strong,” said Christina. “It becomes so solid that they feel they can endure almost anything together.”
Lynn Wright, SDNG senior family readiness support assistant, nominated the 235th FRG for the award.
“The 235th Military Police Company is an outstanding unit comprised of extremely caring, compassionate and dedicated Soldiers and family members,” said Wright. “The command and the Family Readiness Group understand the importance of educating and informing families to make them ready and resilient for missions. The 235th is a model for other units to follow.”