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Programs help Airmen, families prepare for deployment

by Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

8/17/2007 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- As part of ongoing efforts to inform Airmen about ways to manage stress, Air Force officials here introduced a monthly campaign to highlight initiatives to help Airmen and their families cope with life's difficulties, and the initiative for August is deployment readiness.

Air Force officials employ proactive programs to prepare Airmen and their families for the challenges associated with deployment and family separation, and the programs focus on the time before, during and after the deployment.

"The Air Force created the deployment support process to provide continuous, integrated support to Airmen and their families while deployed and at the home station," said Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, the chairman of the Air Force Integrated Delivery System. "We must recognize that deployment support is an ongoing process, and not just a homecoming event. This program aids in the transition from the deployed environment to family life and the work center, and ensures timely attention to the needs of Airmen and their families throughout the deployment life cycle."

Pre- and post-deployment briefings

The Airman and Family Readiness Center, or A&FRC, in conjunction with other agencies on base, conducts a pre-deployment briefing to educate Airmen and families on personal planning strategies related to extended duty away from home.

Representatives from several base agencies provide information about the services available to Airmen and family members. During these briefings, Airmen can complete powers of attorney, enroll in the morale call program, and get information about military pay changes, family care plans and other deployment-related issues. Spouses are also encouraged to attend.

"These briefings are often done in groups, but can be provided individually to help Airmen plan for how to handle personal business long distance," said Brenda Liston, the chief of community support and family readiness at the Pentagon. "They are also valuable to help spouses speak to their children about the deployment, ensure appropriate planning for financial issues, and build communication plans to ensure family unity while apart."

The A&FRC also offers post-deployment services, such as "Coming Home" briefings, to prepare Airmen for reunion with their families, friends and co-workers. Working with chaplains and other helping agencies within the Integrated Delivery System, the A&FRC provides counseling services, briefings and guidance on reunion issues.

"It seems like the reunion would be easy, but it is often the most difficult part of the deployment," Ms. Liston said. "Both the deployed Airman and the family have changed during the separation; sometimes slightly, sometimes a lot. Family rules and routines often need to be adjusted to fit the new reality. Spouses and children have often become more independent and the Airman can feel left out at first. The Airman has often gone through some life-changing events and that can cause changes.

"Single Airmen have similar issues to deal with in the work environment or with previous relationships," she said. "Stepping from the front line back onto the front porch in less than 24 hours can be very challenging."

Additionally, some reintegration problems can arise in the days past the original post-deployment period, so Air Force officials also follow up with Airmen 120 days after they return from deployment as well, she said.

Deployment health assessments

Before and after a deployment, Air Force medical professionals provide health assessments to identify any potential health and behavioral issues.

During the pre-deployment assessment, Airmen complete screening forms, records review and an interview to address any potential health concerns before they deploy to "ensure they are not sent somewhere that could potentially be dangerous for the Airman or the mission," Colonel Pflanz said.

"The post-deployment health assessment is conducted upon return from deployment, followed by a post-deployment health reassessment at 90 to 180 days after the Airman's return," said Colonel Pflanz, who is also the senior psychiatry policy analyst for the Air Force Medical Operations Agency. "These assessments are designed to identify both physical and mental health concerns, and lead to treatment for any health problems that are identified."

Family readiness programs

The Air Force also provides services that directly support the family members of deployed Airmen. These services are designed to help families understand the cycle of deployment and the effects deployment can have on children.

"Children don't always understand why mom or dad had to leave for the deployment and what it all really means. They often fear that their parent is in danger," Ms. Liston said. "Helping them understand the whole process and keeping open communication with the deployed parent is important. Our A&FRCs have junior deployment events each year that help children experience the deployment process. Parents should contact their local A&FRC for the date of the next event."

The A&FRC partners with installation communications squadrons to provide free Hearts Apart Morale Calls and video teleconferencing between family members and deployed Airmen. Support groups, childcare programs, and even car care programs are also available to the families of deployed Airmen.

"We find that families who stay connected via various means of communication during the deployment fare much better than those who do not," Ms. Liston said. "The A&FRC professional readiness consultants assist families in building strategies to keep communication open for all members of the family unit, including parents of the Airman and significant others."

Childcare programs

Enhanced childcare programs play a big part in reducing stress and supporting families of deployed servicemembers. The Air Force offers childcare programs Airmen and their families can use before, during and after a deployment.

"Give Parents a Break" is a program that provides four to five hours of childcare, once or twice a month at no cost to the Airman. The program is funded by the Air Force Aid Society, and is available to anyone with a referral from a base helping agency, said Eliza Nesmith, the chief of Airman and family services. Since its beginning, the Air Force has provided more than 150,000 hours of childcare through "Give Parents a Break."

Air Force leaders also recognize the need for deployed members and their spouses to reconnect when the military member returns home from a deployment. The Returning Home Care Program provides members with additional childcare upon returning from deployments.

"This program provides up to 16 hours of childcare, at no cost to the Airman, for parents returning home from a deployment of 30 days or more," Ms. Nesmith said. Airmen who routinely deploy for shorter periods can also use the program.

Palace Hart

Air Force leaders developed the Palace HART -- Helping Airmen Recover Together -- program to assist Airmen with combat-related illnesses or injuries resulting from operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

"The program provides individualized personal support to ill or injured members," said Yvonne Duker, the supervisor of the Air Force Palace HART program. "Consultants advocate for services and act on the member's behalf. They also coordinate with the closest Air Force Airman and Family Readiness Flight for personal, enhanced transition assistance and services."

Consultants ensure Airmen receive necessary information and entitlements on the military side, as well as assist with transitioning to civilian life.

"This can include financial counseling, relocation and employment services," Ms. Duker said. "In addition, consultants coordinate benefits counseling and services provided by the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor, Social Security Administration and other helping agencies. The Air Force is committed to providing professional support and follow-up to our wounded warriors for up to five years."

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