February 20, 2008

FRG Success Story!

Over the years I have heard way to many negative stories re: unit Family Readiness Groups. My goal for starting this blog was to help me and others to focus on the positive aspects of FRGs. Every group is different, but each should be a positive outlet for family members, especially during times of deployment.

I think I've just found a shining example of what an FRG should be like. I don't know that I could run a group to be this wonderful. I couldn't do it alone, but I could work with a team of great volunteers. This is my goal.

Family Readiness Group Part of Unit’s Success: Returning soldiers and their families praise their Family Readiness Group for support provided during the troops' deployment.

By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Witherspoon
7th Army Reserve Command BAMBERG, Germany, March 14, 2005

The Army Reserve’s ability to train, maintain and sustain itself is crucial to its success during military operations, such as Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, but just as crucial to its success is a well established Family Readiness Group.

The consensus among a group of returning soldiers and their families is that the Army Reserve’s 1st Infantry Division Detachment Rear Operation Center’s Family Readiness Group is a prime example of how a family support group can contribute to a successful mission. The Center's Family Readiness Group not only made sure that the unit family members were taken care of, but also tended to the needs of their soldiers in Iraq.

Now that the unit has returned after being mobilized for 366 days, the soldiers cannot praise the Family Readiness Group enough for the job they did while they were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“This unit has one of the best [Family Readiness Group] I’ve ever seen,” said Master Sgt. Andre Paige of the1st Infantry Division Detachment Rear Operation Center. “They sent out newsletters, packages, e-mails, you know, stuff for everybody. The biggest thing was they kept us informed on what was going on with our families, which helped put a lot of our minds at rest so we could concentrate on our mission.”

"Thankfully we had a strong Family Readiness Group that communicated with us and kept us informed. It was wonderful how everyone stayed in contact with each other, no matter how far away you lived,” Army spouse DeLeslie N. Lowenthal


Military Spouse Booklist

The information below is all taken from Military.com, a list of books for Military Spouses put together by Tara Crooks. I've been reading material by Tara Crooks for a while now, and she is a WONDERFUL motivator. Enjoy! ;)

Most of us can agree there is nothing better than curling up with a good book. Reading a book written for or by a military spouse makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself and that you have a network of people just like you. There are many great books out there for military spouses and this is not by any means a complete list. But it is sure to give you hours worth of curling.

Books written specifically for the military (click on the title to read info/reviews from Amazon.com):

Many of these books' authors and publishers have websites that include additional material in support of military spouses and their attempt to make the most of military life. All of these books can be purchased through the Army Wife Talk Radio Booklist.

Tara Crooks, or "Household 6" in the Crooks' family, is best known for her ability to motivate and empower others. Tara's journey with the military began in 1998 when she and her husband PCS'd to their first duty station, Ft Hood. She is married to her husband, Kevin (US ARMY), and has two beautiful little girls, Wrena & Chloe. Their family, including two dogs and a cat, is all snuggled in their cozy home in Richmond Hill, GA.

Tara currently writes columns for several military publications, one of which, can be found here on Military.com. Tara also owns and operates two successful websites, Army Wife Talk Radio and Field Problems.

February 19, 2008

Great Ideas but No Execution?

I had an FRG Leader contact me yesterday. She said that one of her Volunteers had contacted her with ideas of how things should be run, meeting ideas, etc. The FRG Leader praised her for her great ideas and asked if she would like to be in charge of a future meeting, setting it up, getting a flyer together, and help take care of other little details.

The Volunteer's response (my paraphrase), "Oh, no! I have too much on my hands with my very active little child and other family responsibilities. I think we had a misunderstanding. I wanted to SHARE my ideas, make suggestions, but absolutely can't commit to anything else at this time."

I have mixed feelings about this situation and will post more later. What do YOU think?

Chaotic Mom's input: I thought about this one all day. My first thought was, "So, tell the leader how to run the show, but don't offer any help?" And the truth is, we don't know all the details. Maybe this person is judgemental, thinks things should be run HER way, but doesn't want to do the work to make it happen.

I like Kristen's positive comment to the post, "Sometimes we just have to take whatever people have to give. If ideas are all they can give, then so be it." This is a VERY positive attitude. Something I need to think about and could learn from.

Leading an FRG can be a very tough job. Each group will be very unique, depending on the make up of its members. While it's good to keep an open mind to ideas others may have, it can also be important to support the group in some way, too. Maybe sharing ideas is one way this Volunteer can contribute to her group. Hopefully there are others in the group who can help the FRG Leader with the execution of the Volunteer's meeting ideas. I am a big believer in "TEAMWORK". We are all individual parts of the bigger team picture.

Hmmm... Another post idea just came to mind. ;)

February 18, 2008

"The Rear D and the FRG are one team!"

I just pulled the title of this post from Center for Army Lessons Learned: Frequently Asked Questions onRear Detachment Operations. I was trying to look up information re: communication between Company Commander and FRG Leaders. I think this is a key issue in many of the groups in which I've participated, whether the FRG Leader was married to the Commander or not.

I've seen FRG Leaders discouraged when they don't feel appreciated, when communication is bad between them and their unit commanders. How should they be communicating? Daily or weekly? This is very different during deployments and down time. I've always recommended at least a weekly email update from each to the other, when possible. The Commander and FRG Leader could pass info on how the unit is doing, current family issues in the unit, training calendar changes (OPSEC, of course), you name it. Communication is key to building and maintianing a strong team. A good FRG is an integral part of the unit's teamwork, even when the families are holding things down on the homefront. Open lines of communication need to be maintained to keep the team running smoothly.

From CompanyCommand: Command-FRG Leader Teams--

“You enlist the soldier. You reenlist the family.” Great leaders understand the power of this maxim. In a high-OPTEMPO Army, the importance of the Family Readiness Group (FRG) cannot be overstated. A resourceful, motivated FRG leader can make all the difference to the spouses and children left behind when a unit deploys.

Commanders and their FRG leaders work together as teams, and so do their respective forums—Company-Command and FRG Leader. Listen in as experienced company commanders and FRG leaders talk about working together to make a difference for Soldiers and their families.

I strongly encourage you to read through these stories, an hope you'll share some of your own here, too. ;)

February 17, 2008

"Because I am in charge, and I said no."

Okay, folks, I'm seriously looking for your stories! Here's an example from "Muddy Boots Leadership", by John Chapman, p. 74:

The junior spouse had gone to great effort to host the family readiness group meeting. She planned an icebreaker game to help people get acquainted. The commander's spouse told her, "No games." When she asked why not, the commander's spouse casually replied, "Because I am in charge, and I said no." The goodwill and participation of the junior spouse slipped away...along with that of every other spouse to whom she recounted the incident.

So, what do you think? Have something like this ever happen in your group? I have, same idea, different story. I have to try to look at both sides of the coin, though.

My first thought was, "The senior spouse was J-E-A-L-O-U-S." Maybe she thought the junior spouse had gone overboard, was outdoing her. I don't know.

Then I got to thinking that MAYbe we don't know the whole story, either. Maybe there was a time crunch to get the meeting done, child care, facility use, I don't know. Maybe they were serving food and didn't have time for a long, drawn out icebreaker game.

IMHO, though, no matter what was behind the Senior Spouse's comments, I don't think that's the way a volunteer should be dealt with. Volunteers work for FREE, and can be discouraged if not appreciated. Maybe there should have been better communication before the event, an agenda agreed upon, expectation laid out on the table. Again, from the book:

The family readiness group is the ultimate test of leadership. Unlike soldiers, volunteers can leave at any time. To motivate participation, the leader and the group must offer members something they cannot provide themselves.

I would LOVE input on Volunteer Motivation. Anything you could share from your past experiences?

FRG Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

Just received this from someone. Thank you for passing it along! Click on the links to access some good FRG Volunteer Appreciation ideas. ;)

Volunteer Appreciation Quotes

Out-of-the-Ordinary Gifts for Volunteers

Awards and Special Acknowledgment to Volunteers

Ongoing and Informal Ways to Thank Volunteers

I LOVE the thought of posting a “Volunteer Board” at the HQ with pictures of volunteers, activities they’ve helped with, and a big “THANK YOU! WE LOVE OUR FRG VOLUNTEERS!” Maybe make a banner to hang w/pics (transferred onto the fabric), etc.

Volunteer Recognition--Chocolate Bars: LOVE this idea!

And yet MORE Volunteer Appreciation Ideas!

Do YOU have any good ideas/stories to pass along?

What is a "Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG)"?

Good question. The Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG) web system provides all of the functionality of a traditional FRG in an ad-hoc and on-line setting to meet the needs of geographically dispersed units and families across all components of the Army.

While attending Troop FRG meetings is a great way to get information and meet other families in your unit, it is not always possible to attend meetings. You may be working long hours, children are in sports or home sick, or you may not live near your soldier’s post (move home during deployment, family members of single soldiers, etc). If your unit has a vFRG site, this is an excellent way for your to get unit and contact information, 24/7, all year.

Even if you do attend your FRG meetings, you may still check our unit site to check the calendar of events, look at online photo albums, read articles about the unit, or to find links to more useful information.

www.ArmyFRG.com is your direct connection to Command information for your unit. Register today for your unit's Virtual FRG site and get connected to all of the pertinent information and resources you need to stay informed and connected. If you have any questions about your unit’s vFRG, please contact your FRG Leader, Family Readiness Support Assistant (FRSA), or unit Commander.

*Log on to www.armyfrg.org.

*Click on “Register Here” (Right hand side under Log in or Register).

*Click on the state (CONUS) or country (OCONUS) in which your Soldier is currently stationed.

*Scroll down the units listed and select the one in which your Soldier is currently stationed.

*Select “Family Member” or “Soldier” from the drop down menu and enter the requested information.

*Family members must have their Soldier’s First Name, Last Name and the last four numbers of their Social Security Number.

*Click “Continue” and complete the remaining registration information.

*Once finished click “Complete Registration”. Soldiers will be approved automatically and can access the vFRG immediately.

*Family members must be manually approved by the unit vFRG Administrator and will receive an email when their request has been approved.

*Once fully registered, login at www.armyfrg.org with the User Name and Password you had selected.

*On the upper right hand portion of the page there is a selection box. Click the down arrow to the right of "Army FRG" and select your Soldier’s unit.

*Click "Go".

*This will bring you to the the unit’s Home Page. Each unit will have a different Home Page structure. Feel free to navigate and explore from here. Enjoy!

Al-Qaida Eyes Troops' MySpace Pages

A family member forwarded the info below to me. I tried to verify the source, by searching for the author, papers to which he is known to contribute, and didn't find anything concrete. I even checked at Snopes. The FreeRepublic posting is still online, but I couldn't find this specific article otherwise directly connected to Gordon Thomas.

That said, I tracked similar stories to "Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin". I don't know anything about his site, reporting, authenticity, etc, and I'm not paying to access his site. It appears that the original article below may have come from Farah’s "G2 Bulletin". A related article excerpted from his site: "Al-Qaida Cyber Terrorist's Den Raided", posted Jan 25, 2008.

While I wasn't able to authenticate the story below, it is VERY interesting and a good wake up call to folks as to what COULD happen. In my experience, even when you post pictures on the web, when you upload files, the code for the page includes the original name of the picture even if you don't visually see it on the page. You post a picture from your hard drive titled, "Billy's third BDay.jpg”, and I can easily view the page source code and find the original name of the uploaded picture. Now I know what Billy looks like, and that he just had his third birthday.

I think it would be wise to pass this info on, even though I couldn't verify this specific story. Everyone should be more aware and concerned about what they post on the web.

Al-Qaida Eyes Troops’ MySpace Pages

Posted in January 7th, 2008 by Terresa Monroe-Hamilton in Middle East/Terrorism, Politics

From the G2 Bulletin:

British intelligence monitors operatives gathering details from websites

By Gordon Thomas

LONDON - In an unprecedented New Year “high priority” warning, MI5, Britain’s Security Service, has asked British troops to remove all personal details they posted over the Christmas period on the social networking websites Facebook, MySpace and Friends Reunited.

MI5 Internet analysts discovered al-Qaida operatives had been monitoring the sites to gather details that could be used to launch terror attacks.

Under the heading “Personal Security,” the two-page document, signed by MI5 chief Jonathan Evans, was circulated on New Year’s Day to all British commanders in Britain, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“You are requested to ensure that service connections on chatroom and dating sites do not appear. Be especially careful if you use Facebook, MySpace or Friends Reunited.”

The MI5 analysts have seen that many thousands of servicemen and women had posted personal details on those websites and had included news of their careers, pictures of themselves in uniforms and details of past postings.

“Those details in the hands of al-Qaida operatives offer invaluable information,” Evans warns.

Access to Facebook is restricted to members. But all that is required to register is an e-mail address.

“We now know al-Qaida is using hundreds of false accounts to access the personal pages of many service personnel listed on regimental forums on the site,” states the MI5 document.

As an indication of the danger on New Year’s Eve, one MI5 analyst uncovered the names of 954 servicemen on the Royal Marines network on Facebook and another analyst found on MySpace no fewer than 127 names of Royal Anglican Regiment soldiers.

“Many of the soldiers gave their full names, dates of birth, home towns, names of family members, girlfriends or wives, the locations of where they had served and photos posing with colleagues and weapons.”

“That kind of detail,” warns the MI5 document, “is pure gold to terrorists. It can enable them to plot an attack as never before. And not only on targets in the field, but against the families of those soldiers.”

Last year, MI5 uncovered a plot to kidnap a British Muslim soldier who had recently returned from service abroad and to behead him on the Internet.

“The United Kingdom remains a target for al-Qaida’s home-grown Islamist activity. Attacking soft targets causes maximum casualties and fear,” reveals the report.

Citing the attack on Glasgow Airport last summer, the document adds: “Most recent incidents of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices were the work of educated men who knew how to use information intelligently.

“The truth is that in 2008 al-Qaida will continue to recruit extremists to conduct suicide attacks both in Britain and abroad, as well as recruiting sympathizers prepared to assist by providing accommodation, transportation and funding,” concluded the warning from Jonathan Evans.

But even as he had penned it, there came the huge embarrassment of learning that the new head of the Joint Intelligence Committee – the supremo of all British intelligence who acts as the link between MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the government – had posted his intimate details on Facebook.

Far from hiding himself from the scrutiny of terrorists, Alex Allen, 56, had used the website to list his home phone number, address and names of family friends, and his hobbies: cycling, card games and sailing. On his Facebook entry, Allen, who took over Jan. 1 as head of JIC, revealed he is a fan of the 1970s American band the Grateful Dead and likes to windsurf on the Thames.

Hours after a call from Evans, the red-faced Allen had taken down his Facebook revelations. But almost certainly not before they had been noted by one of the Islamist terrorists Evans had warned about.

Click here for related Alex Allen story.

Online OPSEC and PERSEC: Things to keep in mind when posting.

By Anita Doberman, Military Spouse Magazine, Sep/Oct 2007, pg. 36.

Technology has pioneered the vast frontier of cyberspace: a wildly enticing and readily available venue void of borders and rules. Just remember, the Web is public domain.
Terrorists look for any small puzzle piece. While a small bit of information may be innocuous by itself, coupled with other small puzzle pieces it can create a big picture. And, that can cause serious trouble, not just for you, but for other military families, as well.

Safety Guidelines:

  • Join moderated forums. It’s safer to join chat rooms or forums that use moderators. Note: Do not be lulled into security by thinking a moderated forum is free from safety violations. Even secured forums can have trolls and lurkers.

  • Create a nickname. If you decide to chat or post on a forum, create a nickname. If you go by your legal name, anyone can use your words and photos against you. Likewise, be very wary of posting your email address–unless you really like spam.

  • Become a “Jane Doe.”Don’t give out personally identifying information such as home address, telephone number, social security number, credit card and bank account numbers, place of work or any other information that may personally identify you. Also, be particularly careful when describing your family members, especially children, and don’t divulge your city of residence. It also means don’t pick a username like CrystalLovesGreg.

  • Mum’s the word. If you aren’t sure how to answer questions about your spouse’s job or location, don’t. You can always politely refer inquiring minds to your installation’s public affairs office. Additionally, avoid answering questions about your service member’s duty station, rank, MOS and whereabouts.

  • Watch your back. Beware of scams. If a company you trust is asking for identification information via email, ask for a phone number and follow up. Utilize scam- and myth-busting Web sites, like Snopes.com, before buying into the next “absolutely, guaranteed true” mass email.

  • Children: Trust no one. Teach your children that anyone can pass for a friend online. Explain that they shouldn’t share personal information, and have them inform you immediately if someone asks to meet them.

Unsafe way to post:

Posted by: CrystalLovesGreg: “Hey girls, sorry I won’t be in the forums today. My son, Mike (he’s six) is home with the flu. We just got back from Portsmouth Naval Hospital where we waited for six hours at the ER. My two girls were crazy! Anyway, I hope he gets better in time for DH’s return next week. We go back for a follow up Tuesday morning. I’ll be back on tomorrow.

What a lurker has probably learned: You’re a Navy spouse, named Crystal, with three children: two girls, one boy, age six, named Michael. You live in Hampton Roads and your husband, named Greg, is on a ship returning in less than seven days. And, if I wanted to find you, I could simply hang out Tuesday at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and wait for a woman with three children who fit this description. Voila!

Safe way to post: “Hey girls, sorry I won’t be posting today. I’m taking care of my children. Talk to you tomorrow.”


Useful FRG Links and Info

The Army Family Readiness Group Leaders Handbook: provides an overview of the Family Readiness Group (FRG); its purpose, structure, and function; command and member responsibilities; key leader job descriptions; and other aspects of building and leading effective FRGs. Its focus is on the essential ingredients and key tasks of effective FRGs and their importance in helping soldiers and families cope with the stresses of military life and in building cohesive families in the Army. In a very real sense, FRGs can help soldiers and their leaders with the military mission, too. This handbook explains how.

FRG Leader Forum: We are dedicated to those who serve our Army's Soldiers and Families through their FRG Leader role. The FRG Leader Community of Practice is an online forum BY and FOR those serving as an AFR Leader. This forum provides the opportunity to share new ideas and lessons learned to improve our leadership skills and our family readiness programs. The value of this forum comes from FRG Leaders connecting with each other and sharing their experiences and hard-earned knowledge.

MyArmyLifeToo: your connection to the Army Integrated Family Support Network

SpouseBUZZ: Where Military Spouses Connect

Military OneSource: a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, toll-free information and referral telephone service available worldwide to active duty, Reserve, and National Guard military members and their families; and to deployed civilians and their families. Military OneSource provides information ranging from everyday concerns to deployment-related issues. Also, if there is a need for face-to-face counseling, Military OneSource can provide a referral for six sessions per issue to professional civilian counselors at no cost to the service member or family member.