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Dianne Hamilton, mobilization and deployment manager for the 417th Base Support Battalion, presents "Readiness is a Three-Letter Word: FRG" at the American Women's Activities, Germany, conference Tuesday in Sonthofen, Germany.
Dianne Hamilton, mobilization and deployment manager for the 417th Base Support Battalion, presents "Readiness is a Three-Letter Word: FRG" at the American Women's Activities, Germany, conference Tuesday in Sonthofen, Germany. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

SONTHOFEN, Germany — Thirty-four years ago, a green sedan slowly pulled into Dianne Hamilton’s driveway. It was a moment that would she would never forget. Hamilton, then Dianne Stoddard, had just returned home from ice-skating with friends. Like any 12-year-old, most of her concerns lay close to home, but her thoughts lately were of her brother fighting in Vietnam.

Staff Sgt. Norman R. Stoddard Jr. had been in Vietnam for six months when the government car pulled up to his parents’ house in rural Connecticut.

“I remember it very clearly,” Hamilton said. “Out stepped a captain and plain-clothes chaplain.

“You just knew this wasn’t good,” she said. “I think my parents immediately knew.”

The two officials had arrived with news that Hamilton’s oldest brother was missing. A week later, their worst fears were confirmed — Norman Stoddard was killed in action.

While the military, family and friends were supportive when her brother died, family readiness and overall military family support have come a long way since 1970, Hamilton said at the American Women’s Activities, Germany, annual conference this week.

AWAG, which traces its history back to 1946, named this year’s conference “Winds of Change,” and offered several support classes to address the ever-changing military climate.

As one of 10 military support classes offered at the four-day conference, Hamilton presented “Readiness is a Three-Letter Word: FRG” on Monday to a group of about 20 spouses. A second class was offered Tuesday.

“We started to see the transition probably in the mid-’90s that we needed to make sure that we educated people, offered resources and referral,” said Hamilton, the mobilization and deployment program manager for Würzburg’s 417th Base Support Battalion. “And put volunteers — family members — in positions where family readiness group members could contact them and get those resources.”

Tuesday’s class was a mixture of family readiness group leaders, co-leaders and FRG members from brigade, battalion and company FRGs. They were spouses of enlisted and officers.

“We are seeing more and more enlisted spouses get involved,” said Hamilton.

“Years ago there was an expectation that if someone was going to step up to be a leader, it was going to be the commander’s spouse. … And that’s just not the case anymore.

“I think we recognize that it takes a willing, confident, positive volunteer to step forward — regardless of their spouse’s rank,” she said.

During the class, spouses shared their experiences and provided tips on what has and hasn’t worked in their FRGs. And though all of the women in attendance were married, the discussion focused largely on how to support single servicemembers and their families back home.

Angie Bellamy’s 39th Transportation Battalion FRG now e-mails battalion newsletters to single soldiers’ families stateside. Robin Arnold’s 251st Transfer Company unit readiness group has implemented a single soldier liaison.

Debbie Higgins, a 1st Armored Division spouse and Wiesbaden Community Spouses Club board member, said that she attended the conference to gain information that will help her and fellow wives cope with the three additional months their husbands will be downrange.

“I think as a delegate, that’s my job is to bring the resources back to the community.”

Her husband, Maj. Timothy Higgins, was due home May 2 but, like many of 1st AD units, has been extended until August.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t want to come to the conference,” she said. “I didn’t want to come because I didn’t know what the climate was going to be. But the climate here is up, and there’s not a lot of ‘woe is me.’ We’re proud to be Americans.”

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