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Misawa families -- left behind, but not alone

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. A.C. Eggman
  • 35th Fighter Wing public affairs
They keep the home front going, pay the bills, take care of the children, work and worry about their expeditionary spouses. They are left behind, but not left alone.

From Air Force leadership to Readiness Assistant Volunteers, Misawa spouses are offered information, friendship, assistance, counseling and an occasional "break" through 35th Services Squadron activities, squadron functions and Airman and Family Readiness Center's programs.

The RAV Program is an outreach effort of the Airman and Family Readiness Center that uses commander- or first sergeant-appointed spouses in units to help address concerns and issues of the families of deployed members. These volunteers offer support, information and a personal connection to available resources as well as serve as a link between the unit commander and the families.

According the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron RAV advisor, it takes dedication and a big heart to help others while facing the same challenges and trying to take care of your own family.

"They're committed to helping other families," said Peggy Johnson, Readiness Assistant Volunteer advisor, speaking on behalf of three 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron RAVs. "They have big hearts." RAV advisors are unit advocates for the RAV Program and mentors to the RAVs.

"We're another avenue to reach families," said Mrs. Johnson. "RAVs work really close with the first sergeant."

Mrs. Johnson said a lot family members feel more comfortable talking with another family member who has gone through several deployments. The program is volunteer-based and creates a peer-to-peer network that may be less intimidating for spouses than approaching a first sergeant or someone else in the military chain of command.

"They seem to share more and open up (to RAVs)," she explained. "Some spouses are not comfortable with calling the chain of command and asking for information or help."

RAVs across the base have been gearing up for the upcoming Air Expeditionary Force deployment in May. As part of their duties, RAVs contact the families by phone, inquire about how much contact the spouse wants, correspond with them through e-mails, provide referral information, pass along base information, and inform them of what activities are coming up, said Mrs. Johnson.

"We're just gearing up and getting ready to make contact and make sure they have all of the contact numbers," said Rebecca Duncan, 35th Mission Support Squadron and 35th Fighter Wing staff agency RAV. "We're a great resource for spouses to communicate. Sometimes they just want someone to talk to."

The RAVs are not the only resource on base that spouses can to turn to with issues or concerns; many units hold town hall meetings prior to and during deployments to address concerns, dispel rumors and to make contact. The 35th Maintenance Group is holding a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. May 3 in the Mokuteki Ballroom. It is open to everyone. 

The goal of a town hall meeting is to have a forum were active duty or spouses can ask questions about deployment issues, said Master Sgt. David Richard, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. "We will have as many support agencies possible there to answer questions. For some people this will be the first time they will be separated from their spouses. If one person ask question it might answer some one elses question they might not be willing ask."

Another good resource is the Airman and Family Readiness Center, who also is responsible for assisting the commanders with the RAV program. The AFRC offers classes, assistance, education and information on planning ahead and being prepared during the absence of the military member.

"With the Global War on Terrorism and the operations tempo steadily increasing we find too often our military families are left behind to carry on everyday life and the AFRC makes every effort to let them know they are not alone," said Tech. Sgt. Yvette Hughes-Mayo, AFRC Readiness NCO. "The AFRC is here to equip those families with the necessary tools needed to maintain healthy morale and stable homes."

Since its inception in 1981, AFRCs have expanded in function and importance to become an essential part of the Air Force community by providing services such as readiness briefings, counseling, referral services, volunteer placement and financial management.

The AFRC, designs, develops, and conducts quality of life programs and helps families and single military members adapt to the demands of Air Force life and to assist commanders with concerns and issues. The center also provides briefings and information to service members and their families on the cycles of deployment, which are pre-deployment, deployment and reunion.

"Providing information before the actual deployment enables families to assist in the preparation process and make necessary arrangements for the deployment," said Sharon Proctor, 35th Mission Support Squadron community readiness consultant. "Families need information in handling possible problems during the deployment and coping with the separation."

The AFRC also provides a return and reunion/reintegration briefing to everyone who returns from deployment.

"The important thing is to encourage spouses of the deploying and returning person to attend these briefings," said Mrs. Proctor.

After the military member has deployed, it is important to coordinate efforts and assess the families' needs and ensure the support that they need the most is provided.

"It's important that support efforts are targeted toward all families in need of assistance and support, including families at the base, families of service members who do not deploy, and caregivers of children of deployed single parents and military-military couples," she said.

Reunion is a period which requires readjustments for both service member and family. 

"Generally, the belief is that it takes very little time for 'things to return to normal' following a deployment, but in cases involving children, it could take longer," Mrs. Proctor explained. "We help prepare the families and make them aware of problems that may occur after member has returned."

Other resources include the base chapel, which has a 100 percent contact plan with deploying military members and their families during all phases of deployment. During the mid-phase, the chapel staff sends out packages and personalized letters. The staff also holds a quarterly couples dinner to fortify couples by focusing on marriage and reintegration issues.

"We can all do our share," said Mrs. Johnson. "We want people to take advantage of all the tools the Air Force has available."

For information the RAV Program and other activities, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 226-4735.

For more information about the 35th Services Squadron, pick up your Leisure Times or go and click on Leisure Notes.

To speak with a chaplain, call the Misawa Main Chapel at 226-4630.

"We provide activities to keep families actively involved so they do not feel abandoned," said Mrs. Proctor. "Staying involved and having people inquire about your well being, makes the time pass faster and the spouses feel like they are still a part of the military community even while the spouse is deployed."