- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

Families left behind when a soldier is deployed abroad often find themselves dealing with more than just separation anxiety: Cars break down, washing machines go on the fritz and children catch colds.
These things are almost inevitable after deployment, say military personnel in charge of making the transition easier for everyone. And with a war with Iraq on the horizon, they say deployments have been increasing along with requests for help back home.
"Everything goes wrong [at home], and when you are separated from someone, it's very hard once one person leaves, the other has to assume all responsibilities," said Becky Welch, Family Advocacy Program manager at the Army's Fort Benning in Georgia, in a telephone interview.
Fort Benning, like all Army installations, has a family advocacy center that assists families while the soldier is away and even helps them cope with problems that occur when the family is reunited.
Miss Welch said that her budget last year was $709,000, and that she used all of it. Budgets depend on the size of the Army installation, with the maximum being about $1 million, she said.
All military branches have some kind of program to help families after deployment. The help includes major things, such as financial-management assistance and child care, and minor things, such as shoveling snow and solving home-computer problems. Quick cash to pay rent or keep the utilities on can also be obtained from so-called emergency relief societies that operate in each branch.
But services vary among branches.
For instance, the Army's family advocacy program at Fort Benning offers counseling for children, who may become aggressive or depressed when a parent goes away. Child counseling is not available under the Navy's Fleet and Family Support programs but is available through other channels.
"Each of the services has differences in terms of resources, missions and service-strategic strategies. The key standards are to prepare families for deployment and keep them informed," said Lt. Col. Cynthia Colin, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Staff Sgt. Rebecca Tester, who's in charge of "personal family readiness" for Air Force personnel at the Bolling base and the Pentagon, said she recently heard from a woman whose husband was deployed who wanted to visit a sick grandmother in another state.
"I pointed her to a place on the base which gives out [airline] tickets at the best rates," she said Wednesday.
Miss Welch said she received a call recently from a pregnant wife at Fort Benning who had to move.
"We told her to call the Family Readiness Group to get some people to do some packing," she said. The readiness group monitors family preparedness during mobilizations and departures.
Miss Welch said spouses of deployed soldiers "sometimes just want to talk to someone" about their problems.
"I might hear from a spouse who's real upset and crying. Maybe the car broke down and her teen son is causing a lot of problems because he's trying to be the head of the house."
Miss Welch said she will work with the spouse to deal with the difficulties and arrange to bring the child in for counseling, "but talking alone can be worth a million dollars; it shows someone really cares."
In terms of home repairs, units on military bases often make them for families living on the base. Those living off-base tend to be more on their own. Sometimes such tasks are handled by one or two members of a unit who have been left behind to help the families of those deployed.
Catherine Stokoe, director of the Navy's Fleet and Family Support Program in the Norfolk area, said the Navy has personnel called ombudsmen, who are "trained to handle everything from referrals to repairs."
"The Navy Relief Society never lets anyone get kicked out in the street," said Ms. Stokoe, referring to the agency in Norfolk where the most dire cases are handled.
"We hope no one falls under the cracks. Some people do, but we end up catching them. Everyone at Bolling, everyone [who needs help] gets 100 percent contact," Sgt. Tester said.
Monica Manganaro, spokeswoman for Fort Benning, where 4,500 troops in the 3rd Brigade were deployed this week, put it this way: "Any problem that comes up for a family during deployment can be resolved."
Miss Welch, a licensed social worker, and her Air Force and Navy counterparts say that they are busy these days, but that the situation is far from chaotic. Because of "lessons learned from the Gulf war" and an emphasis on "pre-deployment preparation," families tend to know what to do when separation occurs.
Representatives of all the military branches say that because of all the information the family support centers provide before deployment, particularly about budgeting, it's rare for them to hear from totally down-and-out families.
All say those with the greatest financial difficulties tend to be young couples or families who spend too much.
"Young military people sometimes overextend themselves. So we work with them to get a budget set up so they don't have to file for bankruptcy. As a result, when one is deployed, the one left behind normally is already in the process of budgeting when the other departs," Miss Welch said.
Ms. Stokoe said most of the requests she receives for money from Navy families come from people who have not received income because of pay mix-ups.
"We can work with the Navy to get the pay," she said.
Ms. Stokoe said the Navy has the most advanced family-support programs, "because we deploy every six months, whether we need to or not."

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