Sponsor training aims for smooth transitions
Stars and Stripes June 14, 2007
When Army Sgt. Arturo Claveria arrived at Naha Airport a year ago, there was no one there to greet him.
"I had to ask a taxi how to get to Kadena," said Claveria, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery.
Claveria said he relied on the front desk staff at the base’s Shogun Inn to help him navigate the base until he reached his sponsor four days later.
Today, Claveria is sponsoring two soldiers who recently relocated to the island and said he is working hard to make sure their in-processing goes more smoothly.
Moving from one duty station to the next can be overwhelming — especially when it means moving overseas. And as summer’s peak PCS season approaches, Claveria and sponsors like him will be in high demand on Pacific bases as they take care of their own job responsibilities and help newcomers transition into life on a new base in a new country.
Many bases, like Misawa Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base in mainland Japan, offer sponsorship training.
On Okinawa, Camp Foster’s Personal Services Center gives sponsors the tools they need in a 90-minute session.
"The idea is that we’re supposed to help each other," said Lisa Collier, a relocation assistant who helps run the monthly training at Foster.
Kadena offers online training. Sponsors review a 20-slide PowerPoint before receiving a certificate of completion, said Tony Goodsell, community readiness consultant with the Airman and Family Readiness Center, which oversees the training.
Marine Master Sgt. David Robinson is acting as relocation sponsor for a Georgia family of three due to arrive at Camp Foster next week.
He has set up a post office box for the family, received their area clearance orders and is making reservations for their temporary lodging and other necessary in-processing appointments.
Despite a lengthy checklist, Robinson feels he’s ahead of the game. It’s important to make a good impression, he said.
"Coming here and not knowing where to go or what to do can be a life-altering experience," said Robinson, of the 3rd Marine Division, Headquarters Battalion. "Having a friendly face and someone to show you around is a good thing."
When Robinson arrived on Okinawa in 2006, his sponsor "went way beyond" his expectations.
"Just him being there to answer questions and to help, where I’d seen other sponsors not doing that," he said. "So I want to be a good sponsor."
Negative experiences aren’t always the sponsors’ fault. Officials say constant deployments and PCS moves can make assigning sponsors difficult. Sponsors who are due to soon leave the island might have difficulty juggling a newcomer and their own pending move.
And, Collier said, newcomers need to keep their sponsors informed of any changes to their arrival plans.
But the way a servicemember and their family are treated and welcomed by the sponsor reflects on the new unit and, ultimately, on that person’s experience with the military, Collier said.
"Those little things are going to make a big difference," she said. "A bad experience could push them to leave the military."
Having contacts is half the battle
Training sessions at Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster review sponsorship duties and offer pamphlets and handouts that cover everything from welcoming the newcomer and arranging for airport pickup to assisting them in house hunting, finding a car and enrolling their kids in school.
"The main thing is for [sponsors] to be able to provide a point of contact," said Lisa Collier, a relocation assistant at Camp Foster’s Personal Services Center. "They don’t have to be experts, but should know where to find that information."
Collier and Tony Goodsell, who oversees the training at Kadena Air Base, say they rely on feedback questionnaires from newcomers to find ways to improve the process.
More than 90 percent of newcomers to Kadena Air Base have said they have had an "excellent" or "outstanding" sponsorship experience, Goodsell said.
Training is also provided to units that request it or have had reoccurring sponsorship issues, officials said.
Training and consultation is available through most sponsorship programs in the Pacific.
If you are selected as a sponsor and need help, here’s where to call: