Fleet and Family Support Center steps in when sailors ship out
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Much of this base seems desolate considering that about 2,000 sailors attached to the Essex Amphibious Group deployed last week; however, the Fleet and Family Support Center is a hub of activity, even busier than when the ships are in port.
The FFSC’s services are essential for spouses and dependents of the deployed servicemembers.
“We are known in part for doing a lot of pre-deployment briefs and for sending FFSC staff to meet the ships later as they come back, providing information after a long deployment,” said Jerry Havens, chief of community services at Sasebo’s FFSC, and a retired command master chief petty officer.
“Typically, the deployments here are just for a couple of months at a time, but this one could prove to be quite lengthy,” he said.
“When they return from a long deployment, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed … a lot of conflicting expectations. We offer information on topics like restoring intimacy in the marriage and dealing with children [who] may have changed dramatically since the deployment started,” Havens said.
FFSC also offers a range of services for those who remain on base while their servicemember spouses are deployed. “We market our services to ameliorate the stress and problems that remain behind when our sailors are on deployment,” he said.
Social, educational and religious programs in the military have faced mandated budget cuts to offset the costs of the war in Iraq, Havens said. “We, too, have had to endure some budget cuts. But what you have to remember is that the Navy’s focus is on ships at sea.
“The shore establishments are there to support the ships. And supporting families helps the Navy do that.”
Navy FFSC survey statistics report that Navy leaders say they’re most likely to refer sailors to FFSC who have problems in the following areas: financial concerns (34 percent), spouse abuse (33 percent), child abuse or neglect (30 percent,) sexual assault (28 percent) and relationship problems (23 percent).
The same survey asked leaders which servicemember issues they needed the most help in trying to solve, and the answers were similar: sexual assault (31 percent), spouse abuse (30 percent), child abuse or neglect (29 percent), financial concerns (27 percent) and relationship problems (22 percent).
One aspect of FFSC is information and referral.
“Suppose a new family arrives here, and as soon as they hop off the bus, the husband is deployed and the spouse ends up walking around dazed and crying in the food court; they should come to us.
“If they don’t know where to go for anything, they should come to us, and if we don’t have the answer, we will do the research and refer them to the right person who does,” Havens explained.
And that includes deployed sailors’ wives coping with pregnancies. “It’s not an easy thing, and I can be of help if I am aware of what’s happening,” said LaDonna Kolman-Reyes, FFSC’s new parent support nurse.
“One thing we are trying to make sure of is that they don’t deliver by themselves. At the least, they need someone there who is kind of a ‘labor supporter.’ When the spouse is deployed, that fact alone increases her fear level and stress level. She will be more prone to having induced labor and earlier labor.”
Kolman-Reyes said she often makes home visits, maintains follow-up with new mothers and helps with all the paperwork facing any newly stationed family, which alone can be stressful.
“I’d say we have about 10 pregnant women deliver a month,” she said.
Almost all the ships have some sort of family support group, she added, saying a few of them will bring meals to the homes of new mothers for a few days.
“Whatever the circumstances,” Havens explained, “when people first come to the base, you treat them like absolute gold for five days, and you’ve won their hearts and minds for good. You’ve showed them that you care about them, and you care about their survival and security.
“With that in mind, for us ‘word-of-mouth’ becomes the best possible advertisement for our services. We want the community to think of us as a caring group of people.
“We are a caring group of people.”