Community Partnerships Assist Families of Deployed Soldiers

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In many cases this means that family resources commonly found on a military installation aren't available for the duration of the soldier's deployment.

The Army has hired 61 community support coordinators located across the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and Japan to help connect these geographically dispersed military personnel with community-service systems.

Community support coordinators work to engage and invite community organizations to partner with the Army, which has led to new programs and support initiatives. Partnership with community organizations provides an extension to the services traditionally offered on Army posts. Army families, therefore, can access services wherever they reside while their military sponsor is deployed.

Community support coordinators work to identify resources and build partnerships with community organizations, said Karen Conrad, a family programs specialist at the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command here. These services then are made available to family programs staff of the active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve to build connections for soldiers and their family members, so they have a link to information and services even if they don't live on or near an

"The CSCs have been very instrumental in connecting geographically dispersed soldiers and families to services," Conrad said. "Community organizations want to step up and partner with the military, but don't always know how they can make the connection. The CSCs provide them with the information they need to build that partnership."

CSCs have been trained by Army family specialists at the University of North Carolina's Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at Chapel Hill.

The CSC program is a result of an Army Family Action Plan issue and the Army Family Covenant. All Army components and family-service agencies are developing a strategic partnership to standardize soldier- and family-support programs and services regardless of component or geographical location, officials said.

Most civilian community programs and agencies, such as schools, nonprofit agencies, faith-based, legal and financial service organizations, as well as behavioral health and government organizations -- state and local government, Veterans Affairs, for instance -- are unaware of the number of Army personnel or families who live in their community or use their services, officials said.

The Army Community Covenant is a way of formally introducing these servicemembers and the organizations.

"We're in the [ninth] year of this war, the longest in our nation's history with an all-volunteer force," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, the covenant's national outreach coordinator.

Whelden is a former commander of the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, now redesignated as Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.

"The secretary of the Army thought this would be an opportunity to engage the American public in their communities and raise the level of visibility of the dedication and sacrifices [of] our servicemembers," Whelden said at this year's community covenant signing with the American Legion.

Since April 2008, 85 communities have signed community covenants

"It's incumbent upon us to look in our own backyards ... and to figure out who's out there serving our country and what kind of support they need," First Lady Michelle Obama said during a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., in March. "We need to make sure, as a community, that we're coming together around those [military] families."

The Army OneSource online portal provides easy access to many services for families living far outside garrison borders.

Besides offering family-service connections initiated by community support coordinators, Army OneSource also compiles up-to-date information in a single location for access at any time of day.

The AOS portal features Army family-services-oriented articles, videos and resources in categories, such as programs and services, health care, soldier and family housing, child, youth and school services; education, careers and libraries; recreation, communities, marketplace and travel, as well as information about the Army's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program.

By using the Army OneSource portal, soldiers and families "can have local services at their fingertips and access information regardless of their component or where they reside," Conrad said.

(Rob Mcllvaine works with U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs.)