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Deployment support: command strives for continuous improvement in helping Reservists and their families deal with separations.

Thousands of Air Force Reservists have deployed all over the world in recent years to support the ongoing Global War on Terrorism, leaving husbands, wives, children and other loved ones behind to manage while they are gone. Such separations, often lasting for months at a time, can be extremely difficult for everyone involved. In an effort to provide better assistance to families, Air Force Reserve Command officials are working on several fronts to improve the command's deployment support process.

"Deployments are always going to be stressful, trying times for both (he person who deploys and for the family members left behind," said Ray Nishikawa, AFRC's Airman and Family Readiness chief. "Bui they can be especially difficult for the families of Reservists because our families don't always have easy access to the counseling and care that are available at all Air Force bases. Still, we owe it to our Air Force Reservists to try and make the deployment process as painless as possible, both for them and their family members."

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To that end, AFRC headquarters officials at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., have conducted two AFSO21 events within the past few months to address deployment support issues. AFSO21, short for Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, is the tool AFRC is using to help its people strive for continuous process improvement in everything they do.

In addition to looking at standardizing deployment checklists and a host of other deployment-related items, the two AFSO21 teams started looking at how the command is going to implement the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program--a congressional directive that specifies "deployment support and reintegration programs shall be provided for National Guard and Reserve members and their families. to minimize to the extent practicable the stresses of military service, particularly the stress of deployment and family separation."

Yellow Ribbon, passed into public law in January and based on the Minnesota National Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon reintegration program, dictates that deployment support and reintegration programs shall be provided in all phases of deployment: pre-deployment, deployment, demobilization, and post-deployment and reconstitution.

The law stipulates that deployment support and reintegration programs shall, as a minimum, include sufficient information, services, referrals and proactive outreach opportunities across the United States and its territories throughout the deployment cycle.

"Our bases already do much of what is spelled out in the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, but there are some things in the law that are going to be a little more difficult to implement," Mr. Nishikawa said.

Chief among these is a provision of the law that states that National Guard and Reserve commands shall conduct reintegration activities at approximately 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals after a demobilization or the end of a deployment for all members who are mobilized or deployed for 90 days or more. The law goes on to state that Reserve members must receive appropriate pay and allowances for attending these deployment support and reintegration activities and that family members should also attend the events.

"Because of our confidence in the skills and abilities of the support agencies at our wings, we are exploring various options for the reintegration programs to include having some at the wings and others at regional locations," Mr. Nishikawa said. "Our Reservists and their families are spread out all over the country, and several don't live in close proximity to their unit, so the logistics pose big challenges for us.

"Other challenges include how we deploy people--in small packages of one or two and not always in large numbers from a specific unit--and the fact that there are spouses who can't take time off to attend an event. We have to figure out how to schedule these people into our reintegration activity schedule. This is a particular concern for all of our IMAs (individual mobilization augmentees) who are deployed, but regional reintegration activities may be a way to reach this target group.

"The challenges can be overcome, and I'm confident the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program will take Reserve family readiness to a whole new level," Mr. Nishikawa said.

In the meantime, Reserve Airman and Family Readiness Centers will continue to help Reservists and their families deal with the hardships of deployment.

"The Airman and Family Readiness Centers at all of our Reserve-owned bases do a great job of helping our members and their families deal with the difficulties of a deployment; and at the bases where our units are tenants, the active duty-run Airman and Family Readiness Centers are there to support Reservists and their families as well," Mr. Nishikawa said.

The Airman and Family Readiness Center at the 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, Minn., is one example of a Reserve center that is doing great things to help its members and their families deal with deployments.

In addition to offering a host of pre-deployment and during-deployment support activities, the 934th Airman and Family Readiness Center teams up with the clinic, chapel and other base agencies to provide a comprehensive reunion and reintegration program. Upon their return from deployment, 934th members are encouraged to participate, either individually or as a unit, in any or all of the programs offered. Among these programs are:

* Minnesota National Guard reunion events and family reintegration events;

* A one-on-one briefing with an Airman and Family Readiness Center official concerning benefits Reservists are eligible for and issues they may be dealing with;

* A two-hour session with chapel, clinic, and Airman and Family Readiness Center officials that covers stale, Defense Department and Veterans Affairs benefits as well as a review of issues and behaviors that may occur after exposure to combat or a combat-supported deployment;

* A second session 30 to 60 days after the initial personal contact that deals with specific behaviors and responses covered by mental health experts; and

* A third session 30 to 60 days after the second session that addresses post-traumatic stress disorder issues.

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"We've had this program in place for reunion and reintegration jointly with clinic, chapel and other agency personnel for over a year now, and it's worked out great," said Vicki Lokken, director of Airman and Family Readiness for the 934th. "I just received a report from one of our air and space expeditionary force-deployed units on life one year after return, and it was fantastic. This unit had 20 percent of its deployers show PTSD/combat stress behaviors immediately after they returned. But one year later, with our reintegration program and the willingness of wing leaders to refer problems, the Airmen report being much better off than before."

At Whiteman AFB, Mo, the 442nd Fighter Wing has instituted the Warrior Reintegration program to help its members make a smooth transition from the battlefield to the home front.

Established by Col. Steve Arthur, 442nd FW commander, the Warrior Reintegration team comprises Maj. Edward Cullumber, a clinical social worker; wing Chaplain (Capt.) James Buckman; and Master Sgt. Vicki Chambers, chief of the wing's Airman and Family Readiness Center. The team works to educate Reservists before they deploy, stay in close contact with Reservists and their families during deployment, and conduct interviews and assessments when Reservists return home.

"(Warrior Reintegration) is an attempt on the front end to prevent any kind of problems with negative stress reactions," Major Cullumber said in a recent news story. "On post-deployment, when people return, it's to help them reintegrate back into civilian life and identify any kind of problems they might be having that they need to seek additional help for."

"All of us who deploy into battle will face issues with stress-related problems," Colonel Arthur said. "If we don't deal with this now, what we are going to see is a decrease in the combat capability of this wing. My responsibility is the combat capability of this wing. I need to do something now that is going to allow the unbelievably high levels of combat capability that we have in this wing to continue."

While Reserve units are working hard to help their members and families deal with deployments, IMAs may have a harder time finding the help they need. That's why one Reserve organization has taken it upon itself to help bolster deployment support for its IMAs.

In December 2007, The Judge Advocate General Corps Reserve established the Warrior Liaison Officer program to support deployed IMAs and their families.

Here's how the program works: Every time a member of the Reserve JA team deploys, he or she is assigned an individual non-deploying WLO from the same major command as the deploying Reservist. The WLO is responsible for coordinating and obtaining assistance to help take care of whatever the deploying IMA and his or her family needs to ease the deployment process. This includes virtually shadowing the deploying Reservist to facilitate the pre-deployment process; maintaining a regular link with the Reservist while deployed; maintaining continual communication with the deployed Reservist's family to assist with resolution of issues that arise during deployment; ensuring a direct link between the deployed Reservist's family and the local installation for inclusion in Air Force events and news; and arranging for individual reception and assistance for the Reservist upon redeployment.

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"Assigned on a one-on-one basis, WLOs serve as the personal and direct link between the deploying Reservist and his or her family, the rest of the Air Force, and, in some cases, the world beyond. It's an important wingman measure designed to ensure we look out for our own folks and their families as they answer the nation's call." said Col. Harris Kline, the mobilization assistant to the Air Force Materiel Command staff judge advocate and overall point of contact for the WLO Program.

"WLO is a great example of a wingman program that can help us take care of individual Reservists who deploy and often fall through the cracks," Mr. Nishikawa said. "We have a host of programs in place to support our deployed Reservists and their families, but there is always more we can do. Deployment support is definitely an area where we are always striving for continuous improvement."
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Author:Joyner, Bo
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:1686
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