Attendees Leave Family Conference With Wealth of Resources

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

CHICAGO, Sept. 3, 2009 - Participants in the Defense Department's three-day Joint Family Readiness Conference that wraps up here today are going back to their installations better equipped to give military families the kinds of support they need.

More than 1,500 people involved with military family support gathered to hear speakers and participate in workshops focusing topics such as on finances, education, health care, and how to help families, especially children, cope with deployments.

"Multiple deployments and separations are taking a toll on the children. They affect everyone from infants to teens, as well as the spouses left behind," said Karen White, the director of the child development center at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. "A parent may deploy when a child is 3 months old, and now is back, and the child is over a year [old] and doesn't recognize the parent. That can result in reconnection issues."

Deployments affect the co-workers left behind too, she added. If half of a unit deploys, the military members left behind work more hours, which can affect their family lives as well, she noted.

Olivia O'Neal, site manager at Fleet and Family Support Center in Sasebo, Japan, made the long trip to learn more about deployment issues. Having worked for the Army before taking her current position with the Navy, she said, she also likes to see the grand view.

"I really like to know what's going on in the services," she said. "I'm one of those people who likes to see the big picture, and I know [the Defense Department] is big picture."

She'll said she'll use what she's learned here for in-house training for her 25-member staff to ensure her team has the latest information and resources.

In addition to tools to help families with deployment and reintegration, some participants said they're taking away good solid information on relationships.

"I really enjoyed the class on marriage enrichment," said Elizabeth Diaz, family readiness officer for the 1st Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, Calif. "I'll be able to take back solid tools to families."

Air Force Master Sgt. Donald Gonsalves, the Airmen and Family Readiness Center noncommissioned officer in charge at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., faces some different issues.

"The base that I'm at up there is very heavily involved with taking care of the Guard and reserve folks," he said. Though the base deploys 300 to 350 people a year, deployment isn't business as usual for many of the active-duty airmen at Hanscom, he said.

"This is kind of a first-time experience for most of these people," he said. "They've never been down that road. It's kind of an education factor, them being informed as to what to expect during the deployment, or before deployment."

Gonsalves said he gained greater insight into programs he previously knew little about, such as the Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works for quality educational opportunities for military children affected by mobility, family separation and transition. He added that the conference made him more familiar with what various organizations and programs can provide. "That's a huge part of it," he said.

In addition to acquiring information, resources and tools to take home to their military families, many participants found the networking opportunity valuable. They connected with one another about everything from deployment to employment.

"I came here to network with other services and to learn about how operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom affect families who are relocating," said Connie Silk, who helps Fort Campbell, Ky., families with relocation issues. "There are many, many resources out there, but the trick is how to put them in a format so families know where to go for help or support."

Kristen Geist, who helps Fort Campbell family members find jobs, said she also found the conference valuable. "I also came to network and see how the other services are doing," she said. "Spouses are seeking jobs as well as education and training."

The participants' enthusiasm wasn't lost on the organizers. Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department's Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth Military Community and Family Policy ? the office that organized the event ? said she's pleased with the results.

"We're really excited about the outcome of this conference," she said. "It was at the right time, with the right people and the right information to give to them."

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