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CRYSTAL CITY, Va. -- Just as she has grown and matured with her four daughters, Stephenie Palmer has seen the way the Army looks after its families grow and mature over the past two decades.

"Back in 1988 when I had my first experience as a unit's volunteer leader, the position was called social coordinator," she laughed. "Today, Family Readiness Group leaders serve a vital role as representatives of the commander, charged with providing a direct link between families and the commander. They help educate their unit's families about services and programs that will assist them in being self-sufficient in their roles as Army spouses and families."

She recalled that around the time of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, there was a shift away from just spouse support to a readiness concept to make sure families were prepared for whatever might happen should their Soldier be deployed.

"By 2004, it became obvious to the FRG and Army senior leaders how much work was truly involved in being an FRG volunteer who faced multiple deployments and no end to the conflicts in sight. It was taxing, and we started to see a lot of burn out," Palmer said. "As a result, the Family Readiness Support Assistance program was conceived and implemented."

FRSA provides paid assistants to work with the FRG leaders and rear detachment commanders. The program decreases volunteer stress by providing administrative and logistical assistance, allowing the volunteer leaders to concentrate on their unit's families. Palmer became one of Army Forces Command's initial Family Readiness Support Assistants.

"Coincidentally, the Army was looking at putting into place regulations that would bring some Army-wide consistency by defining what exactly an FRG would or would not do. So, it was a perfect time to put some full-time support in place as we started to got our arms around what the groups were expected to be doing," she said.

"Originally, the FRSA folks served primarily at the division and brigade level. However, today the Army has grown FRSA considerably to where it's in place at the battalion level," Palmer said. "Now an FRSA individual is able to really work closely at the grass roots level with the FRG volunteer."

As another indication of the Army's commitment to family support, she noted that FRSA personnel are no longer contract or temporary employees but part of the actual MTOE for a brigade or battalion. Palmer herself has just started work as the Family Readiness Support Assistant for the 7th Sustainment Brigade at Fort Eustis, Va., as her husband, Lt. Col. Steven Palmer, has assumed his new duty assignment with the Joint Center for Operational Analysis in Norfolk, Va.

Palmer attended FORSCOM's recent second annual FRG Leadership Training Symposium here and the separate Association of the United States Army annual meeting in nearby Washington, D.C.

"The symposium served as such a tremendous opportunity for the more than 400 FRG leaders who attended to hear about programs they may not have been aware of, to find out about new and upcoming things to help support families and FRG leaders, to share best practices, and to network," she said, adding that it's also educational for the Family Readiness Support Assistants to find out what's working well and what the needs are that they can incorporate in how they can approach their jobs more professionally at their home stations.

"But perhaps the greatest benefit of this gathering was the reaffirmation of their value to the Army that the FRG leaders took home with them," Palmer observed. "Hearing the heartfelt thanks and encouragement from the commanding general and deputy commanding general of Forces Command helps them realize the importance of what they do is broad and recognized all the way up the chain of command."