BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A new 1st Armored Division program is building on the Army tradition of being there for families of the fallen during the worst of times.

“Army spouses have always been there in times of need and tragedy,” said Lynda MacFarland, who is developing the program, which is formalizing that natural inclination into a “Care Team” concept. The idea is that rear-detachment commanders and Family Readiness Group leaders have volunteers ready to provide immediate support as the notification teams leave, “rather than scrambling around 72 hours later,” she said.

Care Teams — each with two or three members — train to do everything from looking after children to anticipating potential crises to warding off nosy neighbors at a vulnerable time, MacFarland said. Each Care Team goes through careful screening and training, then undergoes debriefings after helping families to make sure they don’t suffer themselves from what is always an emotional test, MacFarland said.

The new concept was a headliner at last week’s division-wide seminar for rear detachment commanders, which included a variety of presentations on subjects such as the Army’s new sexual assault policy and rules on FRG funding. Such programs are especially critical for overseas bases, where families may be thousands of miles from friends and family, said Lt. Col. Carson MayO, 1st AD rear detachment commander.

At the seminar, MacFarland stressed that Care Teams aren’t for everyone.

“We don’t want [team members] walking out of homes where people are overcome with grief saying, ‘Oh, it was awful!’ and talking about what happened,” she said. Team members, who must sign confidentiality agreements, must be mature and flexible enough to deal with any situation with complete discretion, she said.

Many of the people she’s approached have said, “‘Let me think about it.’ And that’s really the right answer,” MacFarland said. Giving deep consideration to the gravity of what they’re getting into shows they’re more likely to be right for the job.

Once organizers have the right people, teams go through training sessions with seven presenters including a chaplain, a benefits expert, a social worker, mental health professionals and substance abuse counselors.

The 1st AD’s embryonic Care Team program is derived from a concept developed at stateside bases, MacFarland said, and introduced to her by a friend, Julie Patano.

With the majority of Germany-based units in Iraq or Kuwait, there’s a certain urgency about getting Care Teams in place.

After two training sessions — one in January, a second in February — about 160 spouses have signed up.

Though she’s not familiar with the concept, “it sounds like a promising idea that would benefit military families in their darkest hour,” Deborah Tainsh wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. Tainsh, of Midland, Ga., is the author of “Heart of a Hawk: One Family’s Sacrifice and Journey Toward Healing,” about the death of her son, Sgt. Patrick Tainsh. Tainsh, a Silver Star recipient, was attached to 1st AD when he was killed Feb. 11, 2004, in Baghdad.

“Speaking as the parent of a fallen soldier, I would have found it comforting to have had someone from the military installation near us (Fort Benning) close at hand that day,” Tainsh wrote.

Tainsh and others noted there are several support programs available to the families of the fallen, including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. However, none get help to spouses immediately in the way Care Teams are meant to do. Pioneering such a delicate proposition has resulted in volunteers asking for more training even as they completed the Care Team process, MacFarland said.

“And I said, ‘More? You never had it at all before!’” she said. “To me, that’s very telling as to how necessary this is.”

What does a Care Team do?

Care Teams — each with two or three members — train to do everything from looking after children to anticipating potential crises to warding off nosy neighbors at a vulnerable time:

Team members get very specific training, even down to how to introduce yourself to the spouse and notification team, and express condolences while saying the soldier’s name.Team members will ask what the spouse and family what they need while understanding that “emotions may leave the spouse unable to access what they need.”Initial responders will ask certain questions such as, “Are there any calls you need me to place for you?” as well as whether the spouse needs the team to help prepare the quarters for the arrival of family members, or help take care of the children. “Remember not to bombard them with questions they may not be able or ready to answer.”After assessing how comfortable the spouse is with the team, volunteers would then proceed to take care of cooking or attending to children.Planning includes how the next team will arrive, and the first team depart.Teams are also asked to record questions for future debriefings. They are also expected to be ready to assess “red-flag signals” and call emergency personnel should the spouse physically threaten themselves or someone else. After helping a stricken family, Care Team members, chaplains and the casualty notification teams will undergo clinical debriefing by the same Combat Stress Teams who look for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in combat troops.— From the 1st AD rear detachment Care Team handbook

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