FAMILY SUPPORT GROUPS (FSGs)
On 20 Dec, units from 7th Inf Div (L) deployed to Panama on JUST CAUSE. Hours later at Ft. Ord, wives activated unit telephonic notification systems and answered questions from concerned families. The variety of techniques established and rehearsed by the FSGs during training exercises were quickly activated to provide assistance and information to the families. The FSGs were active in getting post organizations involved to assist families with financial and personal problems. The FSGs visited wounded soldiers and cared for and comforted families that had experienced a loss. The division command group was also involved. On day three of the deployment, the Division Chief of Staff briefed the families of each deployed unit. Several days later the division had unit commanders and staffs brief families on unit activities via a telephone linkup to Ft. Ord. The division also published a daily bulletin which gave operational updates for soldiers' families. These bulletins were placed on post in convenient locations for the families.
During JUST CAUSE, the FSG structures, including unit organizations and post staff elements, were prepared to care for soldier families and performed their responsibilities admirably. The FSG program can be improved upon, however, especially as it is expected to operate in rapid deployment skills as volunteer leaders and techniques for dealing with the press. Unit rear detachment operations must be effective.
- Designate a quality officer as rear detachment commander who will remain for the entire deployment. This is a critical position for contingency operations, and changing commanders becomes counterproductive.
- Establish strong working relationships between FSGs and the post family assistance center.
- Review policies and procedures for the information flow to the FSG and dissemination to the families; in particular, how the FSG receives casualty information and when they can make contact with the families. This will establish the credibility of the FSG by clarifying what information will be received and when it will be disseminated.
- Establish a link between the FSG and the families of single soldiers.
- Provide volunteer leader skills training and orientation to FSGs.
- Request Public Affairs Office (PAO) provide a liaison officer (LO) to assist the FSGs. An LO can assist FSGs with classes and handouts on how to handle the media during unit deployments.
- Place a daily/weekly newsletter in central locations on post for families to pick up while the unit is deployed. This newsletter will augment phone trees and serve to keep families informed on the operation.
- Stress to family members that soldiers may be deployed for extended periods. All families will not be prepared to be self-sufficient for the entire deployment.
- Test the FSG telephonic notification system during training exercises. This will help identify any problems with the system and acquaint family members with each other.
- Develop a "buddy system" within the FSG. The buddy team would call each other daily to pass on information and provide mutual support during the deployment.
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