On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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From the outside looking in, the process of deploying seems like a crippling mountain of paperwork surrounded by a dizzying maze of briefings, meetings and appointments.

In addition to saying goodbye to friends and family and preparing for dangerous missions in foreign lands or treacherous waters, deploying troops are given the unenviable task of getting their legal, personal and financial documents in order before they leave for duty.

With the immense stress in their personal and professional lives and limited time to check off all the necessary boxes, how do these men and women get it all done?

Army Staff Sergeant Charles Scott and Sergeant 1st Class Fernando Hernandez consult with master resiliency trainer Phalecian Rawlins during a 10-day training course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in March 2013. Army photo by Fonda BockArmy Staff Sergeant Charles Scott and Sergeant 1st Class Fernando Hernandez consult with master resiliency trainer Phalecian Rawlins during a 10-day training course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in March 2013. Army photo by Fonda BockThe short answer is that they have some help.

U.S military installations around the world are outfitted with a comprehensive network of agencies and organizations that offer support to service members and their families. Each service has its own system and each is equipped with its own alphabet soup of entities—MWR, FRL, FRO, ACS and FRSA are just a few the Army uses—that stand ready to help.

At Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Laura Mitchell is often a deploying service member’s first stop or phone call. As a mobilization and deployment specialist at the home of the Army’s famed 101st Airborne Division for the past six years, she’s helped thousands of soldiers through every phase of deployment. When troops and families come to her, they’re usually searching for answers to important questions.

“[Deploying troops] want to know how they can communicate with their family once they’re deployed, said Mitchell, who served more than 20 years in the Army before retiring as a sergeant 1st class in 2006. “They want to know where they can go if they have a finance or pay question or how their spouse can get financial help [if they need it].”

Her office ushers troops through the pre-deployment phase by holding briefings and enlisting the help of experts to explain the critical information troops need to know before they head out. A lot of time is spent talking about uneasy topics, but they are important conversations to have—especially if you’re destined for a war zone.

“We talk about financial issues, wills, life insurance and emergency data,” Mitchell explained. “This doesn’t get done in one day. It’s a process and they have an instructor there to take them through every phase of it.”

The top concerns among deploying troops are often family-related and Mitchell understands what they’re going through because she’s been on both sides. First, as a service member stationed in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s and later as a military spouse taking care of two kids at home while her husband served overseas.

Phalecian Rawlins gets it, too.

As a master resiliency training team leader with Army Community Services at Fort Campbell, Rawlins is constantly focused on supporting military families through each stage of a deployment. Like Mitchell, she’s also a veteran who has more than 20 years of experience as a military spouse.

Part of the challenge for Rawlins and others at ACS is getting troops and families—especially those on their first deployment—through the door and into the programs.

“We try to reach out to those first-timers—the young family members who sometimes don’t recognize that they may be able to benefit from [our] services,” she said.

ACS and the Army’s Family Advocacy Program offer a wide variety of classes and workshops that aim to build strong relationships, relieve stress and teach new skills to service members and spouses.

“We’ll offer anything—parenting classes, couples communication—that will help minimize the stressors so that our soldiers can focus more on the mission at hand,” said Rawlins. “I can’t say it enough. If the family is not mission-ready, the soldier will not be mission-ready.”

An integral part of preparing family members for looming deployments is resiliency training, which tries to build strong, confident families that are armed with skills needed to face adversity head-on. And at Fort Campbell, it’s Rawlins who leads that charge.

“[Master resiliency trainers] want to make sure that we have helped provide families with the tools to be part of today’s ever-changing Army.”

According to Rawlins, the feedback from families who’ve gone through resiliency training is overwhelmingly positive.

“They are so grateful for that training. They say it’s life-changing and they want to make sure that everyone receives it because it goes along with all the other activities that we offer.”

Mitchell, who was a new mom when she deployed to Saudi Arabia, succinctly explained how all the training and support available to spouses and family members help benefit the military’s overall mission.

“A [deployed service member] wants to know who is back home to help their family. … And a [service member] is able to give 110 percent if he or she knows that their family is being taken care of back home.”

Chad Stewart is the senior editor of ON★PATROL.