'Virtual Installation' Aims to Extend Big-Base Support

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2007 - Laura Stultz may have never been in the military herself, but she's had lots of experience holding down the home front, far from the nearest military installation, when her soldier deploys.

Now, with her soldier-husband serving as chief of the Army Reserve, Stultz feels a personal responsibility to make things smoother for other Army Reserve spouses who keep the home fires burning during deployments.

One way she hopes to do that is through a concept she's dubbed "the virtual installation." The idea, Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz explained, is to make the information, services and support offered at big bases available to families either through the Internet or through local soldier support centers.

The general acknowledged that all spouses face hardships when their loved ones deploy - regardless of whether they're active-duty, National Guard or Reserve. But unlike active-duty families who can turn to their local post for help if they need it, Army Reserve families often live far from an Army post and don't know how to tap into the services offered, Laura reminded her husband.

"She said, 'If I am living on an installation, I have Army Community Services, child and youth services, legal support, medical support, the Red Cross. I can go to Army Emergency Relief if I need to get help," Stultz said. He paused, then continued her point: "But if I am in Pocatella, Idaho, who do I turn to?"

That quandary led Laura Stultz to come up with the virtual installation concept.

"In our vision, we are really community-based, not installation-based," Stultz said. "And (Laura) says every community needs to be a virtual installation. She says, 'I want everybody living in small-town America to have the same support as if they were living on an installation.'"

Stultz sees two ways the virtual installation concept might work. It could be Internet-based, enabling Army Reserve families to use their computers to get the information, support and services they'd find at an Army post.

Another idea is to set up offices around the country, staffed by volunteers to assist military families. Stultz said he envisions "soldier support centers" around the country, possibly sharing space with the local American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or other organization.

"Everybody in the community would know where the soldier support center is, and they'd know that if you're in the military and you need help, that's where you go," he said.

Stultz said the virtual installation would service active-duty as well as reserve-component families from all branches of the military.

"It's bigger than the Army Reserve," Stultz said, noting that families of active-duty troops often leave their post and return to their hometowns when their loved one is deployed. "The idea would be, if you're in the military and in that community, that's where you can go to get help," he said.

Stultz called the virtual installation an important step toward his goal of taking better care of Army Reserve families. After all, he said, the Army Reserve recruits soldiers, but it retains families. "And we have to do a better job of reaching out to those families," he said.

And if anybody understands families' needs, it's someone who's been in their shoes, like his own wife.

"She has lived it," Stultz said. "She has had to be the one at home to take care of the kids and all at various stages when they were growing up. So she has lived it."

Since Stultz left active duty to join the Army Reserve in 1979, he was deployed for Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, for Operation Joint Endeavor in 1997 and for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom from 2002 to 2004.

Each time, Laura Stultz took on the household chores her husband typically handled and singlehandedly cared for the couple's four children.

"And now that she's the wife of the chief of the Army Reserve, she says, 'I have an obligation, because I want to make it better for the wives of the soldiers out there than it was for me," Stultz said of his wife.

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