Family Readiness Group aims to meet AFRICOM’s unique needs

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 21, 2009

STUTTGART, Germany — Usually, when one thinks of a Family Readiness Group, it’s in connection with the work done on the home front while troops are fighting downrange.

However, at U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, troops don’t deploy in the traditional sense — in the thousands for a year at a time. But a newly formed FRG is looking for ways to meet the unique needs of a command with personnel and families spread out across vast distances.

Andrea Aitken, who is serving as AFRICOM’s first FRG leader, said the group is working to ensure those families stationed in Africa at small and scattered outposts get the support they need.

"They are part of this community even though they’re geographically isolated," she said.

AFRICOM’s headquarters includes approximately 1,300 personnel, of which 200 are scattered throughout several regional offices throughout the African continent at any given time. That number does not include the 1,200-some servicemembers assigned to Djibouti.

During a Wednesday kick-off event at the Kelley Barracks Theater, AFRICOM commander Gen. William "Kip" Ward urged members of the community to get busy spreading the word about the new FRG to other members of the command — both military and civilian. Indeed, roughly half of AFRICOM personnel are non-military.

"What’s the mission now? The mission is you being missionaries," Ward told the assembled audience.

One unique aspect of AFRICOM is that it has personnel spread out across a territory 3½ times the size of the continental United States. In additional, numerous Stuttgart-based personnel travel routinely to Africa for long periods of time, Aitken said.

"We want their families to know they are not forgotten," she said. "It is about empowering people with information."

The FRG is ensuring those people have information about Army Community Service initiatives and online education programs as well as being a point of contact for other quality-of-life issues that emerge.

The FRG, Ward said, represents the ongoing evolution of the command, which became fully operational in October.

"It’s about you and making sure other people hear the good news," Ward said. "This is an important milestone in the command’s maturation."

Gen. William “Kip” Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, formally launches the AFRICOM Family Readiness Group on Wednesday during a ceremony at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.

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