February 18, 2014
By Shayna Brouker, USAG Wiesbaden
WIESBADEN, Germany - So, you've volunteered to be the Family Readiness Group leader for your spouse's unit. What now?
First, erase all stereotypes from your mind. FRGs are not coffee clubs, a fundraising organization or active only during deployments. They are the link between the command and family members, morale support for fellow spouses and a force multiplier. And they're more relevant than ever at an overseas location, despite a slower or nonexistent deployment cycle.
"Even though we are decreasing the number of deployments, we will see the aftermath of a high op-tempo, multiple-times-deployed force for a long time," remarked Annikka Trabucco, outreach coordinator and Army Family Action Program manager for U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Army Community Service. "Effects from prior deployments will continue to develop and affect the Soldiers and their families for the foreseeable future."
Trabucco has been conducting FRG training for two years. FRGs support the whole unit -- Soldiers, family members and the civilians who work for the unit -- a need that never goes away, she said.
Particularly in overseas locations, FRGs serve as a ready-made community for newcomers. Many spouses are young, recently married. They are overwhelmed not only by the prospect of taking care of his or her Soldier and learning a new identity as a military spouse, but getting acclimated to a new culture, said Julie Wahlers, FRG co-leader for the 529th Military Police Company and victim advocate coordinator for the Family Advocacy Program at ACS.
She and her husband received orders to Germany the same day they got married. Soon after arriving she became the FRG co-leader and found an extended family. Members help newcomers learn the train and bus systems and venture off-post as a group so navigating German culture and customs is less intimidating.
"I absolutely think FRGs are still relevant," she said. "It's critical that we build a support system," recounting numerous times she's driven FRG members to the hospital when the service member was away at training.
FRG leaders receive specialized training for positions such as leader, treasurer and key caller. Leaders discover the importance of building a solid relationship with the unit commander. The 529th commander is very involved and makes it obvious that the FRG is a priority, said Wahlers.
Treasurers learn the difference between appropriated funds and informal funds and how to properly fundraise. Key callers learn confidentiality guidelines, good communication skills and how to handle difficult people.
Jennifer Quain, an active member of the 529th MP Company FRG, came to training to understand her official function better to help the FRG grow and improve.
"FRGs can get kind of messy and leave a bad taste," she said. "Going to training can help demystify some of that and bring the focus back to what the purpose is -- not to raise money, but to support families."
For military spouses, it's a chance to give back to their own.
"This is the thing -- it's not just a job for him. This is a lifestyle," said Wahlers. "When I was dating him, I didn't realize that. Now that we're overseas, if his phone rings, it trumps everything I have on the table. But these women understand that your life isn't over even though you've married into the military."
Matt Galonka, Mobilization/Deployment program manager, will conduct more training in the future. Contact ACS at mil 335-5234/5254 or civ (0611) 4080-234/254 for more information.