|FRG serves as pivot point for families of deployed unit
Source: Army News Service, March 16, 2005
FRG serves as pivot for families of deployed unit
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
WINCHESTER, Va. (Army News Service, March 16, 2005) -- Paula Golladay has lots of advice for the families of troops who are preparing to go to war.
Organize. Set up a telephone tree or phone-calling roster for the families before the Soldiers leave home. Have a family readiness group representative where the troops are being processed to ensure that powers of attorney, wills and other family matters are attended to. Make sure the spouses who remain behind know where the life insurance policies can be found, where the safe deposit box is located, and when the car next needs an oil change.
Oh yeah, find a Michelle Nelson. You’re going to need someone like her.
Such are the lessons that Golladay has learned as president of the family readiness group for a Virginia Army National Guard infantry unit that is serving in Afghanistan.
Paula is the wife of Sgt. Maj. Robert Golladay, and leader for the group of families of Soldiers in Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry. The unit’s 180 men were deployed to Fort Bragg, N.C., for training last March, then to Afghanistan last July. If all goes well, they will return late this summer.
Guard families far-flung
The company is based in Winchester, Va., but typical of many Guard units, the families live all over the map – in northern and western Virginia, in Richmond and Virginia Beach, and in West Virginia – and as such, do not have the same support network of families who live on a military base.
Among this far-flung group of families, Michelle Nelson is the go-to person. She is the wife of Capt. Mark Nelson, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander. She has helped with the Family Readiness Group while caring for her own family of three daughters, ages 2, 8 and 14, during her husband’s absence.
Several thousand family readiness groups, formerly called family assistance and family support groups, have been organized for Guard units across the country in the 15 years since operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Later deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and now to Iraq and Afghanistan have reinforced the need to care for the families. Many of the families get upset and frustrated early into the deployments because they don’t understand how the military works, Golladay and Nelson said.
FRG go-to volunteer essential
The most effective family readiness groups have a Michelle Nelson, a go-to person, said Dorothy Ogilvy-Lee, the former director of Family Programs at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.
“I can’t imagine a group being successful without a go-to person. A group has to have a pivot. A leader will emerge,” explained Ogilvy-Lee who retired last June after devoting 20 years to developing and nurturing Guard family groups. She believes they are important because “If stuff starts falling apart back here, it will rip a unit apart.”
Nelson, who does not work outside the home, has stepped up to be the pivot for the Winchester group even though she did not originally believe the commander’s wife should automatically assume that role.
FRG gets families thru tough times
She has worked with Paula Golladay to help the families get through their first difficult month of separation, to address problems with pay and TRICARE, and to organize regional telephone trees so the families can stay connected.
She arranged for food, limousines and bagpipes for the funerals of the unit’s two Soldiers killed by an improvised explosive device last Aug. 7, three weeks after they got to Afghanistan. At the same time she was helping Paula whose right foot was partially amputated due to osteoporosis.
She helped put on a picnic for the families in August, a car wash and bake sale in September, and a catered Christmas party in December.
The list goes on. She encouraged one young mother to get the Red Cross to request that her husband remain home on leave for an extra week to help care for their new daughter who was born in late November. The request was granted.
First month often toughest
She helped organize a candlelight vigil for the families – and the entire Winchester community – on March 4, the first anniversary of the company’s deployment.
“The toughest time was the first month after the men left,” recalled Nelson. Although some families were ready, others were not. “It’s always difficult for National Guard families to adjust to an active-duty deployment, especially to a war zone.
Some spouses not familiar with Army
Many wives are not involved in their husbands’ Guard activities. Now, I think all of the families have fallen into a nice level plane.
“This job is more involved, if it’s done right, than I thought it would be,” added Nelson following the group’s monthly meeting in late February. It was held at the American Legion Post in Winchester. Timothy Hickey, a representative for the Army and Air Force Mutual Aid Association, addressed members of about 40 families on adequate life insurance coverage.
First casualties bring tough questions
That has been one of the main concerns since the two Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Craig Cherry and Sgt. Bobby Beasley, were killed. Both were married. Cherry had two children from a previous marriage and an infant with his current wife, Nelson explained.
“That was a devastating wakeup call for all of the families,” said Paula Golladay who wears a Blue Star pin on her lapel because her husband is serving in harm’s way. “That’s when the families with the most problems started asking the tough questions” about adequate insurance and final arrangements, she added.
Michelle Nelson has striven to provide those answers and to help in other ways. She has made many friends in the process.
“No one would have known anything about me if it hadn’t been for Michelle,” said Jessica McPeak, who explained that several women in the family group called her before her daughter Clara was born Nov. 26 and have called to check on her since.
'Guardian angel' pinch hits
Paula Golladay cannot say enough about what Nelson has done for her since she lost part of her right foot on Aug. 10. Her husband, then the Headquarters Company’s first sergeant, could not come home. It was three days after the two Soldiers were killed.
“She ran between me and Winchester to take care of the two families who lost the Soldiers. If it weren’t for Michelle, I could not have functioned. I could not drive myself to therapy,” said Golladay who was incapacitated for five months. “She truly was my guardian angel.”
(Editor's note: Master Sgt. Bob Haskell writes for the National Guard Bureau.)