Family Assistance Center helps spouses cope, communicate, care for each other
April 4, 2003
VICENZA, Italy — The lines at the post exchange and commissary may be a little shorter. And it might take less time to find a parking space.
But not everything has gone quiet at Caserma Ederle with the departure of about half of the base’s active-duty Army population to northern Iraq.
In fact, it’s busier than ever at the Army Community Services building, now known in its wartime incarnation as the Family Assistance Center.
“We are open 24 hours a day,” said Erica Cosgrove, deployment mobilization readiness specialist for the 22nd Area Support Group.
Almost everyone walking in the door, sending an e-mail or calling wants information about the troops. Cosgrove said there have been thousands of inquiries since the center was activated after the deployment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 510th Personnel Services Battalion and 14th Transportation Battalion a week ago.
Most want to know what’s going on with loved ones who may be in harm’s way.
That’s about the only kind of information the center isn’t supplying much of.
Cosgrove jokes that the center serves as a “rumor control point.” Deployed soldiers haven’t been able to contact families yet, and the only regular word getting out to relatives are reports issued by reporters embedded with the unit or other Western media roaming around the country.
Likewise, communications going the other way aren’t going anywhere at this point. That’s not to say there’s no communication between Vicenza and the front. Capt. Steven Haley is in charge of the brigade’s rear detachment and is in contact with the deployed contingent on a regular basis. But that’s official communication.
So those wishing to send e-mail greetings or care packages have to be a little patient.
Margret Menzies, an ASG spokeswoman, said the military is more concerned with getting soldiers the equipment they need to accomplish their missions.
“We deeply appreciate everyone’s help and their good wishes,” she said. “But [care packages] would clog up the logistical pipeline.”
Cosgrove cites one inquiry from the mother of a deployed soldier who saw a television report that showed troops in muddy and primitive living conditions. She wanted to send her son a blanket.
Military officials are looking to see if a military postal address can be activated for those in northern Iraq. But it may take some time to work out the logistics.
In the meantime, the center’s mission is focusing on getting problems fixed for the spouses and families of deployed soldiers. Some spouses aren’t used to handling the family’s finances or don’t know how to keep up with military record keeping. Many are now effectively acting as single parents.
“I know a little about everything, but I’m not an expert,” Cosgrove said.
So she and other center employees have designated contacts with agencies across the base.
The base has hosted supervised play periods, allowing busy parents a moment or two on their own. The Auto Crafts Center provides emergency roadside service for deployed spouses. Extra financial management classes have been set up.
The center has a few rooms with computers where spouses can check the latest developments on the Internet or send e-mails to the States. And the support group’s Web site has links to regular reports filed by the embedded reporters.
Official information is passed along to family members — both in Vicenza and the States — through the Family Readiness Group network. That’s composed mostly of spouses who volunteer to relay whatever information the command sends out.
One of those volunteers, Kim Gueringer, has been a little luckier than most. Sgt. 1st Class Jason Gueringer, her husband, was interviewed for a television segment.
“He’s been quoted and I’ve seen him on TV. So he looks OK,” she said while taking a break from surfing Internet news sites on one of the center’s computers.
Shand Mayville also has seen her husband on TV a few times — and read comments from him other times. Col. Bill Mayville is the brigade commander and a frequent source for journalists.
Both women compliment the base’s efforts for spouses.
“I don’t think there’s anything I could ask for that they couldn’t accommodate,” Gueringer said.
And there are many other spouses available to fill in the gaps.
“I try to come in here every day,” Mayville said. “Just to see what’s going on and try to talk to as many people as I can.”