'Home is here' for families while troops are away
April 2, 2003
Agencies that support U.S. Army communities in Europe are participating in the Home Is Here campaign, a program designed so deployed soldiers’ families won’t feel the need to return to the States during the war.
Since Desert Storm, military communities have matured to better deal with deployments, said Ricki Gibbons, Army Community Service chief for the Installation Management Agency-Europe Region.
She was one of more than a dozen Army officials supporting IMA-Europe who gathered recently to explain what they can do for the families left behind.
While U.S. Army Europe kept no solid records, roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of family members in Europe chose to return to the States during Desert Storm, Gibbons said.
Some of those came back, Gibbons said, because they felt cut off from their normal community.
Younger spouses, with less experience around the Army, may gravitate toward stateside relatives for support. But seasoned spouses, who have learned military culture, may not have that same connection to home, Gibbons said. Back in the States, family members may not even understand military lingo, she said.
“If you want to be with folks who speak your language, home is here,” Gibbons said.
USAREUR lacked family support during Desert Storm, Gibbons said, which led to the creation of standing Family Readiness Groups that kick into high gear during deployments.
“We’ve shifted from support to readiness,” Gibbons said.
For Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Desert Storm was also a wake-up call. In the past decade, DODDS educators developed tools and resources for children of deployed soldiers, said Frank O’Gara, DODDS-Europe spokesman.
Deployments to the Balkans and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks tested the DODDS system, he said, and taught the staff lessons it can use now.
Removing a child from school could add confusion and undue stress, he said. “They’ll miss the support built into our school system,” O’Gara said.
Teachers set aside time to discuss students’ concerns as well as teach them about the area where parents are deployed, O’Gara said. He said schools are also networking with community services to provide further support.
The war is also affecting worship services, but soldiers and family members can expect quality religious support, according to USAEUR chaplain Col. Kenneth Leinwand.
“We may have to consolidate, but the baseline programs will continue,” Leinwand said.
Worshipping forms a community bond, Leinwand said. And he recommended that even those who are not religious learn what unit ministry teams have to offer during a time of need, he said.
According to his staff, U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. B.B. Bell wants to help soldiers and their families, above all else. “He will turn mountains over to make sure they get the care they need,” Leinwand said.
For families that do decide to leave, European officials can still help.
Legal contracts, whether for a cell phone agreement or apartment lease, must be dealt with before leaving, said John Martensen, V Corps’ chief legal adviser.
While away, any regularly scheduled bills must be paid. That could mean granting someone a power of attorney in Europe or paying bills through a bank in the States, which the legal office can help arrange.
Family members can also expect a new set of contracts when establishing a temporary residence in the States, he said. Legal experts at local bases can refer departing family members to stateside legal resources, he added.
Housing appears to be less of a problem for those leaving during the war. The Army does not put a time limit on a length of absence, said Birgitt Seymour, housing chief for IMA-Europe.
Spouses can leave government quarters for the duration of the deployment, with some considerations, Seymour said. First, the housing office must be told and someone must be appointed to watch over the apartment. Then, lock the door, she said.
Should families decide to leave permanently, the Army can refer them to a civilian moving company, but the government does not pick up the costs.
Families planning on staying a month or so in the States should not have to worry about Tricare medical benefits, said Master Sgt. Ron Peoples, a senior Tricare adviser. But for anything over two months, families must enroll with the local Tricare, he said.
After 61 days, benefits decrease and extra fees may be involved. Special approval is necessary for treatment at stateside military clinics, he said.
And lastly, don’t forget your pets, said Lt. Col. Susan Yanoff, the senior veterinarian in the European theater.
Families leaving in a hurry often abandon pets or turn them over to local shelters, she said.
“We don’t want people taking pets into the forest. There are better ways,” she said. “Look to the local community for help.”