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December 4, 2013
Staff Sgt. Gaelen Lowers

AIEA, Hawaii - It's one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Kissing their loved ones goodbye for months or even years at a time is rough, but like in their soldiers' ranks, Army spouses lead, pull resources together, make decisions, and are voices of direction and reason.

When the 130th Engineer Brigade headquarters deployed in August, the unit turned to Erika Gronenthal, a Long Island, N.Y., native and the wife of Capt. Victor Gronenthal, for that leadership.

Developing pre-deployment strategies for soldiers' families and hosting get-togethers for spouses to meet and form supportive bonds are just a few of the reasons she was awarded Hawaii's Outstanding Military Key Spouse Award during military appreciation night as the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football program hosted the Army Black Knights, Nov. 30, at Aloha Stadium.

This is the 10th consecutive year that the award's sponsor, the Hawaii Navy League, has honored the outstanding spouses of deployed service members.

"Erika has a big heart and is one of the most generous people that I've met," said Lt. Col. Anela Arcari, commander for the 130th Engineer Battalion (Provisional). "We were blessed because Erika's husband has been a commander before, and so she was familiar with how Family Readiness Groups are run and their usefulness. She knew when they came to this unit that it was only four months before the deployment and realized that her role would be that much more significant."

Since coming to the unit last year, Erika has developed its FRG into a multi-echelon network of information and spousal support.

"I see it as a privilege to be the FRG leader," she said. "It's been such an honor to get to meet all these families, to develop these relationships, and to be able to support them during a deployment."

Arcari said, "Communicating to the families, getting the families together, having some fun, passing out important information: Erika was a leader in making that happen.

"I think spouses appreciate the information that comes from the FRG," she added. "It gives an opportunity for veteran spouses to tell and show them what it's like to go through a deployment."

Erika and her husband are on their third deployment, which makes her a veteran spouse and a well of information. She also has a son with another on the way, so that makes her an authority on children and pregnancy during a deployment as well.

In the Army, the mark of a great commander is expressing legitimate care and concerns for the soldiers and families in their unit.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Erika, in all that I've seen her do, cares as deeply for this unit as any soldier in it," Arcari said.