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.