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European edition, Tuesday, July 3, 2007

VICENZA, Italy — The level of support still isn’t what some spouses would hope for. But the Army has come a long way in the last few years in its efforts to help families left behind when their soldier is sent off to war.

“Before, it was ‘He’s gone. You married into the military. Deal with it,’” said Natasha Anderson, whose fiance, Staff Sgt. Sean Samaroo, is serving in Afghanistan with Company C of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.

These days, spouses still have to carry much of the burden of maintaining the family and life on the homefront. But Army communities offer a variety of resources. Many of those are presented each Wednesday in Vicenza to spouses of deployed soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Vicenza has been offering BATTLEMIND training for spouses for about two months.

“We got the directive on it and the next week we were holding our first class,” said Holly Gifford, director of Army Community Service at Caserma Ederle.

BATTLEMIND is an acronym that stands for Bonds, Adding/subtracting family roles, Taking control, Talking it out, Loyalty and commitment, Emotional balance, Mental health and readiness, Independence, Navigating the Army system and Denial of self. And if the acronym is rather complex, so are the situations it’s trying to address.

“It’s like pregnancy,” Anderson said. “Every deployment is different.”

Gifford said information is provided on each of the general topics that make up the acronym. Vicenza also includes a segment on financial management. Spouses are given advice and contact information for people who handle a variety of issues on base.

But Gifford said they’re also able to talk to each other at the sessions and share their experiences. Because the 90-minute classes sometimes get emotional and private issues come forth, officials at Vicenza decided to prohibit a reporter from attending a weekly session.

“This is a safe environment,” Gifford said. “Nobody’s going to think anything of them if they express their emotions.”

Spouses did volunteer to talk about the classes afterward.

Anderson, who has been through several deployments and grew up with two military parents, said deployments can be hard on spouses — especially young ones who haven’t been married for long.

“It’s very important for them to know there’s a support system in place,” she said, adding the classes are “very beneficial for new military spouses and kind of a refresher for the people who have already dealt with it.”

Rachel Perez, who leads the company’s family readiness group, said the FRG’s monthly meetings help solve a lot of issues. And the classes help spouses realize that there are professionals available on base to deal with specific issues as well. Knowing there are other spouses and base personnel around can provide at least some mental relief, she said.

“I see it as (the soldiers) are gone,” she said. “The Army has them. There’s nothing we can do about it. They’re there for as long as the Army wants them. We can either be miserable or we can come together.”

Gifford said the classes are designed for a spouse to attend one time. Vicenza also plans to offer post-deployment versions starting in July, when rest and recuperation leave begins. The information is similar, with additional emphasis placed on reintegration of the solider into the family. She said base personnel will hold as many classes of both varieties as often as they’re needed.

“Whenever and wherever they want,” she said. “We’re here.”

Information is also available on this Army Web site: www.battlemind.org/

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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