By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 18, 2005 - Families of deployed National Guard and Reserve members face challenges beyond those of active-duty families, and a strong family support network stands behind them to help through those difficult days, the National Guard Bureau chief said.
"The challenges are considerable," Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said during a joint interview here with The Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service.
For one thing, Guard and Reserve call-ups extend considerably beyond the Army's standard one-year deployment cycles, Blum pointed out. "One year of boots on the ground is not one year for a National Guard soldier," he said.
"It's about 18 to 22 months of total mobilization time."
That translates to time on active-duty time, away from families in an intensive training mode. "You're basically putting your life on hold for at least a year and a half," Blum said.
That's no small sacrifice for the affected troops or the families they leave behind, he said.
And unlike active-component families, those in the Guard and Reserve generally don't have the built-in support system that comes from living in or around a big military base with lots of other families in the same boat.
Guard and Reserve families "are spread all over the landscape," Blum said.
"They live in the communities. So when they are called up, that spouse or that family may be the only people in the whole neighborhood or in that whole apartment complex" to have their loved one deployed.
That's considerably different from big bases or posts where "when the wing (or unit) goes, everybody who lives in that enclave feels exactly the same problem."
To help support these families, the National Guard Bureau Family Program offers a wide range of services and support ranging from family readiness groups at the unit level to a Web site that details the full range of services available to families, including points of contact.
More than 400 family assistance centers nationwide serve as the program's centerpiece. These centers, generally set up in National Guard armories, serve as "a critical link" for families during the loved ones' deployments, said Air Force Col. Anthony Baker Sr., the Guard's chief of Family Programs.
They serve not only Guard and Reserve families, but also families of all active-component members deployed or recently returned from a deployment.
Blum described them as "a single-stop shopping source" for families needing information or assistance, not only during the deployment, but also before and after.
Families typically turn to the centers for information about the deployment or to find out where to go for anything -- from counseling support to financial assistance to healthcare access, Baker said. Some come with questions about their family member's civilian employer or to ask how to get military identification cards.
To help broaden the centers' reach, the Guard is partnering with state and local governments, the American Red Cross, the United Services Organization and veterans service organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans and American Legion are already partners, and the Disabled American Veterans will sign on soon, Baker said.
"These organizations are a real force multipliers," Baker said. "They bring important skills and expertise to the table so we're better able to help meet families' needs," Baker said.
And regardless of their needs, Baker said the Guard owes it to its members to look out for their families while they're deployed. "If we don't do that, we have failed them," he said. "We want to employ every resource possible for families so that when servicemembers are deployed, they know their families are in good hands."
Knowing that their families have a dependable support system at home enables Guard members -- as well as all other servicemembers -- to concentrate on their mission rather than worrying about their families needs, Baker said.
It also has a direct impact on whether they remain in the service. "We have a saying, 'If we sustain the family, then we retain the servicemember,'"