An Army Wife's Life

Once upon a time I was a college student, then I was a teacher, and now I'm a mother. Technically, I'm currently a freelance writer... but really I am an ARMY WIFE. Expect to find... funny (at least to me) anecdotes, thoughts about la vida military, hopes, anxieties, dreams, commentaries on current events.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Army Needs to Reevaluate FRGs

I hope the military is still lurking on my blog (thanks for that temporary spike in traffic, BTW), because I have something to say.

You need to reevaluate the Family Readiness Groups.

Ultimately, when you rely purely on volunteers, you are going to get uneven results--which is disheartening and unfair to those who not getting the good results.

True, spouses are theoretically adults (although we have a few show up who are 16-19). Still, supporting the spouse supports the mission AND improves retention rates. You want that guy to re-up? Convince his wife first.

This is no longer the 1950s. Not all commanding officers are married. Those who are often have wives who do not have the time or interest to run an FRG. Not to mention some commanders are now women--and, sorry but its true, male spouses just do not get as involved with the FRG.

Technically, the FRG is the commander's responsibility. He is supposed to select someone to run the group. Assuming he is unmarried or his wife is not available/interested, though, who does he ask?

Obviously the 1st Sgt's wife, since he is your right hand man and he can update his wife on all of the necessary information from the Company side.

What if she is not available? Hit up the Lieutenant's and Platoon Sergeant's Spouses.

Okay, they aren't available either (or do not exist...most of the Lt's in our Battalion are fresh out of college).

So, what, you ask? After all, your husband's rank has nothing to do with you, right? Right. Except that the key information (especially during deployment) comes from the officers/senior NCOs and you get a lot better information out of someone if you are married to that person.

Also, the volunteers are doing this for the spouses and the warm fuzzy of helping people...but ultimately the FRG is the commander's responsibility. If the FRG leader is not your wife or the wife of a good friend, well...it is harder to expect her to be accountable to you or even care if you look good or not.

So, now what?

Now you are put in a position where you need to locate a spouse who is (A) available; (B) mature; and (C) actually wants to do this (as opposed to is intimidated because of your status as his or her spouse's commander).

In case you haven't noticed, rare is the talented, educated go-getter today who does not have interests and obligations outside of his or her spouse's career. Such creatures exist, but you have to be lucky to find one in a random handful of people.

Not to mention, assuming you find a person who fits the bill, you will have a big responsibility to make sure the lines of communication are open. I cannot even count the times I've heard someone complain that their FRG has not contacted them. Well, it is hard for the FRG to contact the spouses if we are not given the spouses' contact information. Our FRG had to spy, bribe, and cajole to get that info. This is ridiculous. That information should automatically be updated for the FRG leader when new soldiers inprocess...

Okay, so you've located the right person for the job. You e-mail that person every week. This can work.

Except that person is now commiting a MINIMUM of 20 hours a month if you have good volunteers. BARE MINIMUM. Most FRG leaders probably spend about 40-50 hours a month, even with a co-leader helping out.

Now, let's think about other volunteer organizations. Other volunteer organizations (United Way, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) have a PAID STAFF that uses volunteers for specific tasks.

So, the military tested a program this year (at least at this post) with a paid assistant for every Brigade--a civilian. Unfortunately, they did not provide a list of what she could and could not do for us...despite our repeated requests. No doubt future funding will not be approved because the program was "under utilized."

So, here's what you need to do, if you are listening:

1. Assign a member of Rear D (not the commander, but preferably a junior officer or senior NCO) to be in charge of the FRG at the Battalion level. This soldier will be accountable to the commander and organize monthly meetings, publish and mail a monthly newsletter, manage the FRG account, and coordinate the volunteer efforts--volunteers can host socials, bring food to meetings, make carepackages, plan kids activities, write articles for the newsletter, fundraise, etc.

2. If a soldier submits paperwork in regards to having a spouse, that information needs to be automatically communicated to the FRG Battalion Liason. That person will make initial contact with each spouse. If that spouse would like FRG contact, that spouse's contact information will then be passed on to the spouses' group.

There. Problem Solved. Next!!!

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