Army Ready to Support Families of Extended Soldiers

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2006 - Families of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, are not happy about the unit's 46-day extension in Iraq, but they are accepting it well and the Army has many systems in place to support them while their loved ones are deployed, the unit's rear detachment commander said today.

"The families don't particularly like it, but they have understood all along that this was a possibility," said Army Maj. Tony Perry, commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division's Task Force Ready. "The families also realize the importance of supporting their soldier and the mission they are performing downrange."

The announcement of the unit's extension, which came Sept. 25, was made early enough for the soldiers and their families to prepare, Perry said. The unit was scheduled to redeploy in mid-January and now will begin that redeployment in late February.

The Army has several systems in place to support the deployed soldiers' family members, Perry said. Army Community Services has provided the unit with family life consultants -- trained civilian counselors whose primary function is to talk with people and refer them to the appropriate services throughout the deployment, he said. Army Community Services also has provided a first-class "Community Yellow Room" to allow spouses to communicate with their loved ones via webcams, computers and faxes.

The 1st Brigade also has a combat operation stress team, a group of mental health professionals tasked to support soldiers and family members, Perry said. A counselor is assigned to each of the battalions, he added.

The unit has strong Family Readiness Groups that have done a great job of supporting the soldiers' families, Perry said. In addition, family readiness support assistants at each battalion and brigade level assist the rear detachment leadership by coordinating family readiness resources and helping to plan family support operations.

For troops scheduled to attend a school or change their assignments, dates can easily be changed due to the extension, Perry said. Because the announcement came early, he said, he doesn't think any families had already made travel arrangements for vacations or moves that will be affected by the extension.

The unit's extension is unfortunate for the family members who were eager to see their loved ones again, but it's important to remember is that any deployment can be changed due to the tactical situation on the ground and the needs of the commanders, Perry said. The good news about this extension is that the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga., will get to complete its one year of "dwell time" -- time in the United States -- before deploying again in January, he said.

"My command message to our Family Readiness Groups and families is that we are 'keeping our game faces on,'" he said. "We will continue to conduct business as usual in order to maintain stability and predictability."

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