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Mark Allen, left, director of the Family Team Building Department of Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station’s Marine Corps Community Services, and Melissa Young, the department’s program specialist, have started a support group for spouses of servicemembers.
Mark Allen, left, director of the Family Team Building Department of Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station’s Marine Corps Community Services, and Melissa Young, the department’s program specialist, have started a support group for spouses of servicemembers. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — A new support group is gearing up to help spouses and family members strained by prolonged absences of loved ones because of deployment and temporary duty assignments.

The Spouses of Deployed Servicemembers Support Group met for the first time on Oct. 7.

“And that was our only meeting so far, so we are just getting it rolling,” said Melissa Young, program specialist for Iwakuni’s Marine Corps Community Services Family Team Building office.

“The whole point was to get together and see what is needed,” she said.

The group began to materialize after a spouse in the community told a base chaplain she perceived a need, said Mark Allen, director of the MCCS Family Team Building office.

Spouses in Iwakuni told the Family Team Building staff their biggest challenge during times of deployment is handling their children as “single parents” while also struggling with separation from their spouses.

Support for spouses of servicemembers begins, Allen said, with Key Volunteer Coordinators in each unit, the Marine Corps program that serves much the same role as the Navy’s Volunteer Ombudsmen Program. The volunteers are information liaisons between the commands and families.

Young brings a definite approach to supporting spouses in the group, and much of it centers on taking the initiative to acquire information.

“The big push is to be proactive. You have to get out of your house. You need to go out and find out what’s in the area,” she said when discussing the new group at the Family Team Building office last week. “If you haven’t been contacted by your Key Volunteers, you need to go out and find out who they are. You have to let people here know what it is you’re looking for, and chances are this base has it for you.”

“There’s a plethora of programs and activities available. That’s what we want to offer. This is what we want them to be able to do,” Young said.

A major benefit of such a group, Young and Allen agreed, is that the meetings will stimulate networking among spouses, encouraging the sharing of experiences and advice. “The group can open new lines of communication,” Young added.

The group’s name is a misnomer, a base spokesman said: Few Iwakuni servicemembers actually are “deployed” to military operations such as in Iraq. But spouses of servicemembers and civilians on temporary assigned duty are welcome. Spouses of personnel involved in military exercises, or who are away from their families receiving additional training or attending specialized schools, also are invited.

Allen said the next meeting would occur sometime next month after significant advance publicity in the community. “We’ve tentatively decided on meeting once per month, but that could change depending on the need,” he said.

Meetings are to be held in Yujo Hall, directly to the right of the chapel.

Call the Iwakuni MCCS Family Team Building office at DSN 253-3754 for additional information.

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