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The portrait of family readiness.

The deployment of a Sailor creates two parallel stories, each unfolding in the same space of time. The Sailor's story is about taking on America's challenges abroad, while never ceasing to be a brother or sister, father or mother to the loved ones temporarily left behind. For military family members on the homefront, the story is about overcoming the daily challenges and dealing with the stress of having a loved one in harm's way.

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For Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (EXW/SW) Fealofani Peau and his family, another chapter of parallel stories is to be revealed in the coming months.

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Fealofani's unit, Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1, is deploying to Iraq in a matter of days. He's not too worried about the challenges he may face on the job, since this is his second deployment. He knows what to expect as a professional Sailor.

His greatest concern is the well-being of his family while he's away, so the family is doing everything they can to prepare for his deployment before it begins.

Fealofani's wife, Jessica, a former Navy hospital corpsman, and two children, Vianca and Jonathan, must each step into roles usually filled by Fealofani.

For him to be able to fully concentrate on his impending mission, Fealofani needs to be certain his family can tackle any curveball thrown their way while he's gone.

"Fortunately, my wife is an incredible multi-tasker," said Fealofani. "[But] it'll be difficult for her, [especially] the first month because it takes a little time to adjust and get everything in balance."

With their mother attending school and a younger brother requiring supervision, Feolafani's 15-year-old daughter Vianca said she's ready to take on more responsibility and help out her mom around the house.

"With my mother going to school now, my brother and I have to be more dependent on each other. My mom needs her space to get her homework done. I need to take more responsibility for everything that needs to be done in the house. With [my dad] gone, there's more pressure, and I guess I just have to step up more."

Even though she's prepared for her larger role, Vianca said nothing can replace everything her father does while he's deployed.

"I don't like the fact that he's leaving," said Vianca. "My dad is always there for me, pushing me to do better. He's the one I go to when I have problems--my teenage problems. ... Emotionally, it's just ups and downs. One day, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, my dad's gone. I miss him so much, and I can't stop crying.' The next day, [you realize] it's just another day, and you're going to get through it, and he's going to be back."

For Jessica, her husband's safety is her top priority.

"Of course my No. 1 concern is that he's safe," she said. "He told me the area he's going to this year is a little safer than where he went last year, but there is no safe area in Iraq. I still feel very, very scared."

Jessica said she wants everything in her household to run smoothly while he's away, so Fealofani doesn't have to worry about his family while he's in harm's way.

"I just want to support him all the way, so he doesn't have to worry about us here, and he can just do his job."

Anchors Aweigh

The Peau family is a prime example of how today's Navy families are supporting the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as vital maritime security operations around the world.

It's a scene repeated regularly in the Navy--and has been for more than 200 years. Families--wives, husbands, a child or two maybe, even more sometimes--standing on the pier waving good-bye to their Sailors as a ship pulls away from the pier for an extended deployment. Navy families have always carried their weight with honor and determination.

Extended deployments have been a reality since the days of the Great White Fleet. At any time, approximately 50 percent of Sailors are underway or otherwise deployed away from their families.

The issue of family readiness has come to the forefront of the way the Navy does business. A couple of generations ago, Sailors were expected to put family on the back burner to focus solely on the mission. But, time has shown that a more inclusive approach to family readiness produces better results for the Navy and the families.

"The fleet's readiness is directly tied to the readiness of the Sailors who make up the fleet," said Capt. Joe Hinson, director of U.S. Fleet Forces' Fleet Training Branch. "The most technologically-dominant platforms in the world are mere skeletons without our professional Sailors serving as their heart and brains."

Family readiness directly affects mission and warfighting readiness. The old, worn-out attitude of "a wife wasn't issued with the seabag" has given way to more enlightened attitudes concerning family readiness.

"If Sailors are not able to focus on their jobs when deployed because their [families are] suffering at home, it's inevitable that the quality of their service will suffer," said Hinson.

In effect, family readiness fleetwide serves as the very keel of the Maritime Strategy.

"Family readiness is part of every Sailor's responsibilities," said Hinson. "Our forces are in high demand, and the flexibility required to provide commanders credible combat power whenever needed, requires Sailors to sustain a high level of family readiness."

Hinson was quick to stress that family readiness should not be solely reserved for "known" deployments, taking into consideration recent deployments to carry out unexpected missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

"In today's environment, family readiness must be maintained consistently."

Are they ready?

Before a ship leaves the pier, the crew spends months getting ready for the inevitable cruise. Sailors work hard readying the ship through extended maintenance programs. They train long and hard, readying themselves through work-ups, qualifications and inspections. But what about the families and the loved ones they're leaving behind?

The Navy has a variety of programs to help Sailors like Peau and their families. The programs that assist these families helped position the Navy as a Top 50 employer.

"The Top 50 initiative [recognizes] all that the Navy does in this and other arenas for our total force. The Navy strives to provide our workforce a career that is both professionally and personally rewarding, [and] part of that is through our life/work programs," said Cmdr. Lisa Truesdale, from the office of the Chief of Naval Personnel. "Some of those programs include, but are not limited to: 12 months operational deferment for new mothers; child care centers; IVF reimbursement; telecommuting; paternity leave (new in FY09); career intermission (new in FY09). Additionally, the Navy provides an incredible number of benefits that is on par with or better than most corporate institutions."

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These types of programs allow the Navy to recruit and retain talented people and their families, but when it's time to pack the seabag, Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) has a whole menu of services and support to get Sailors and families through deployments.

With classes focusing on how to get ready for a deployment, how to cope when a parent is away; and what to expect when that parent returns; and resources as the family employment readiness program; personal financial management; and counseling; the FFSC offers a wealth of services and information to families.

FFSC is also responsible for giving basic training to command ombudsmen. Each command, active duty or Reserve, appoints an ombudsman to maintain communications between the chain of command and the families therein.

"The ombudsman basic training gives the building blocks to structure our role," said Christine Kiefer, the ombudsman for Navy Operation Support Center (NOSC), Columbus, Ohio. "One of the things I learned was how to get hold of a deployed Sailor in case of an emergency. We also learned about how to handle crises and plan events."

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The command ombudsman is a volunteer, appointed by the commanding officer and trained to serve as an information link between command leadership and Navy families. Being the ombudsmen of a Reserve unit presents its own unique challenges.

"We have about 600 Sailors spread all over the map, from Iowa to California. About 90 are deployed to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They do not deploy as a unit," said Kiefer. "The families left behind could feel pretty isolated."

Kiefer focuses the bulk of her efforts in supporting the families of deployed Sailors. She helps the NOSC commanding officer to make a monthly call to each family.

"A lot of times what is most needed is a sympathetic ear. They need to know they are not alone and that they're cared for," she said.

The role that ombudsmen play in family readiness cannot be overstated. They are often instrumental in helping to resolve family issues before the issues require extensive command attention, and they can provide resource referrals when needed. Navy Reserve ombudsmen are fully trained to assist both activated and non-activated families.

Family readiness groups (FRGs) are also an invaluable resource to families of deploying Sailors. FRGs usually consists of fellow military spouses, parents, siblings, relatives and approved friends of military personnel. They are generally organized through a unit before a deployment. They help each other and their children adjust to their Sailors' absence. They also provide a helping hand should a fellow spouse or child suffer a hardship of any kind.

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Another program, United Through Reading (UTR), enables deployed parents aboard Navy ships, at air stations abroad and in tents throughout the Middle East to share their love and support with their children by reading books aloud on DVDs. The readings are recorded, then DVDs of the sessions are delivered to their homes along with the book.

This program is unique in that, while in the past military personnel have been able to write letters, e-mail and send audio cassettes, UTR offers children a chance to see their parents' faces, listen to their voices and read along as their parents read to them. It also allows the child to spend as much time with the deployed parent as they wish by watching the DVD over and over again. UTR is available directly through military commands and at numerous USOs throughout the world.

Individual Deployments

The challenges that individual augmentees (IA) and their families must tackle are also being addressed by the Navy.

"Family Readiness for the IA process is no different than family readiness for the rest of the Navy," said Capt. Jefirey McKenzie, commanding officer of Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center, Norfolk. "The Navy has support and resources in place to assist all Navy families during deployment as well as plans and processes to provide assistance for families in the event of a natural disaster."

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McKenzie was quick to clarify that the IA process faced many obstacles in its infancy.

"When the IA process first started, some families felt isolated because the rest of their parent command was not on the same type of deployment," he said. "IA families had very little information about what an IA deployment was like and what they could expect.

"As the IA process has evolved and improved for the IA Sailor, the Navy has promoted education and information about the process with more emphasis on command outreach and communication with our IA families. Fleet and Family Support Centers provide many briefs about IA deployments for Sailors and their families to attend as well as IA handbooks, group meetings and webinars. ECRC keeps track of the latest Navy initiatives and family resources to better assist Navy IA families. As the communication and support process has improved, so has the family feedback."

The Paper Trail

Before a Sailor deploys, he or she must make sure all important paperwork is in order. This applies to both married and single Sailors. Single Sailors often overlook this formality when their families--whether parents, siblings or grandparents--could be the most affected should an emergency arise and their paperwork is not in order.

Sailors should have a current will on file, designate someone to hold power of attorney in their absence, designate beneficiaries in writing, ensure that Service member Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage and beneficiary information is current and consider drafting a living will to be on file should they become unable to make medical care decisions.

Life-changing events such as marriage and births of children require detailed attention. Sailors must review and update their Record of Emergency Data (Page 2), which lists the next of kin that should be contacted in an emergency, and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and review SGLI elections and beneficiaries as necessary.

Sailors need to know that updating one system does not automatically feed the other.

"Most Sailors assume that changing their Record of Emergency Data will automatically update their DEERS status," said Pamela Thomas, who works for Naval Personnel Command's customer service center. "[Unfortunately for them], it doesn't."

Since enrollment in DEERS is necessary for life-insurance and TRICARE benefits, a good rule of thumb for Sailors to follow is to update DEERS within 60 days of a major change in their life or legal status, such as getting married or divorced, or having a child, whether by giving birth or by adoption. It's especially important that a Sailor take care of this if his wife is expecting a child. Neglecting this can result in loved ones being denied insurance payments and benefits.

Dual-military couples have good reason to stay on top of their status--if they don't update DEERS properly, they could erroneously receive double insurance benefits, creating a steadily mounting debt each month.

Peau learned a few lessons about legal and financial readiness from his first deployment.

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"The last time around, [I had] some financial issues where something wasn't properly taken care of prior to leaving," he said. "I've learned a lot from my last deployment. [I've ensured that] our credit card bills and direct deposits are in order, and I have allotments placed. [I ensured] that any of the bills dealing with credit are as low as possible, so I don't have any issues with that this time around."

For Sailors not wishing to learn these lessons firsthand, a pre-deployment checklist is available at www.nffsp.org and can help provide a good head start. The list includes items such as insurance coverage, and arrangements to pay taxes, bills and emergency expenses.

RIVRON 1's administrative department was proactive in dealing with any legal issues Peau and his fellow Sailors had.

"They were on top of us in ensuring that all powers of attorney were completed," Peau recalled, "[as well as] our wills. I had [my will] in place my last deployment."

As important as it is for a Sailor to make sure his or her spouse and children are ready before deploying, the emphasis on family readiness applies also to extended families.

"It's equally important that single Sailors do not fall through the cracks. Single Sailors, just like their married shipmates, need to make sure their afiairs are in order before deploying as well," said Catherine Stokoe, CNIC Family Readiness Program manager.

Single Sailors need to make sure their SGLI and Page 2 cover the person they wish to be contacted in an emergency, such as a parent, fiance or sibling. This is especially crucial for single parent Sailors, who need to make sure all legal, administrative and financial aspects of deployment are in order for the welfare of their children.

"It's certainly true that single Sailors have many of the same concerns as their married counterparts, particularly when it comes to issues relating to leases, contracts, accounts and other property interests," said Cmdr. Steven L. Haycock, deputy assistant judge advocate general.

The Personal Side of Family Readiness

Once the legal, financial and administrative issues are taken care of, the most crucial elements of family readiness come into play: Shoring up the bonds and strengthening the communication lines.

For the Peaus, this meant spending as much time with the family as possible. As his deployment approached, Peau and his wife worked to make sure their family bonds were as strong as ever while he serves in Iraq.

"We have tried to spend every second that we can together and concentrate on the good times and not the little disagreements," said Jessica. "He's been very involved with the kids. He took two weeks leave, and he took them to school and picked them up. Then, as soon as they got home, he had them do their homework, and then he'd spend time playing with them. He really made a special effort to spend as much quality time as we could, as a family and as a couple."

Story by MC2(SW) Elizabeth Vlahos, photos by MC3(AW/SW) Jhi Scott

Vlahos and Scott are assigned to Defense Media Activity--Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
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Author:Vlahos, Elizabeth; Scott, Jhi
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:2832
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