The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have exacted a heavy toll on our men and women in uniform, and the family members left behind have not been spared from the suffering. I hesitate to attempt assigning levels of suffering and sacrifice, but the activation and deployment of National Guard and Reserve units carries with it an additional (and unique) set of circumstances that affect those involved, and the nature of their service is such that resources to deal with these issues often don't exist. North Carolina currently has about 500 Citizen-Soldiers actively deployed, but that is about to change:
The 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team will begin holding farewell ceremonies for units across the state on Friday November 14th for their upcoming deployment to Iraq. The 26 ceremonies will be held a local venues at or near the unit’s home towns November 14-16, December 1-3, 13-14, and 19 and January 2, and 3. A large farewell ceremony for the entire 4000 Soldiers of the 30th will be schedule closer to their actual deployment for Iraq early next spring.
In December, the Soldiers of the 30th will begin an intensified training period prior to entering onto Federal Active Duty. They will begin by being stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC and Ft. Stewart GA and the WVARNG Battalion assigned to the 30th will be stationed at Ft. Pickett VA. After returning home for a Christmas Holiday break, they will depart for Camp Shelby MS where the entire 30th HBCT will continue training and officially enter into active duty in February. Once this post mobilization training is complete the 30th will deploy for the second time in five years to serve the nation and conduct operations in Iraq.
As you can see, although their actual deployment to Iraq is still a few months away, the ramp-up and readiness training have already begun. Separation from family, absence from (civilian) job, getting a handle on both work and personal relationships with fellow soldiers, etc. In some ways, these early preparatory stages can be even harder on someone than a settled routine, even if that routine is in a dangerous place on the other side of the world. I can tell you from personal experience, being within a short drive of your spouse and children, yet not being able to see them, is harder to face than thousands of miles of separation. The men and women of the 30th have already embarked on a major, life-changing journey, and if you're a yellow-ribbon-placing person, go ahead and put it up now.
So let's talk about resources for these folks and their families. For those reading this who have been active duty or military brats, and were stationed at medium or large bases, there are a range of programs, facilities and support groups available to assist with quality of life issues. They're not always perfect, and getting what you need occasionally takes a little "pestering", but the resources are there. Citizen-Soldiers, however, come from communities scattered across the state, most of which are far removed from large bases and the resources they provide. As such, the communities themselves remain the centerpoint in the lives of Guard and Reserve families, and helping those communities better understand and respond to the needs of these families is a challenge that must be met.
There is a recently-formed organization working on these issues, called the Citizen-Soldiers Support Program (CSSP). There has been some speculation here and elsewhere about the effectiveness and use of Federal funding by CSSP, which is administered through UNC's Odum Institute. While CSSP's Web presence leaves something to be desired, I've been provided (via e-mail) an update on some of the things CSSP has been up to, which I will share with you.
Legal issues for soldiers are usually handled by JAG (Judge Advocate General) officers. While they are trained/educated on a wide range of legal issues, the main focus is on the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) and how it's applied. These are smart folks, but they don't generally jump into a fighter jet if their car is on the fritz, or immerse themselves in family law. In order to bridge that gap for the Citizen-Soldiers who are about to deploy, CSSP came up with an alternative:
In December 2008, over 3,200 North Carolina National Guard (NCNG) Soldiers participated in Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) in preparation for deployment in support of the Global War on Terror. CSSP, in partnership with the NCNG Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, the NC Legal Aid for Military Personnel Committee, and the NC Bar Association Foundation, recruited over 25 family law attorneys to serve as an information resource for NCNG JAG Corps attorneys during this process.
Family matters that need legal attention often arise during pre-deployment preparations. To ensure that any Family issues did not prevent Soldiers from successfully completing their SRP in December, JAG officers were able to call a family law attorney in North Carolina to address, and hopefully resolve, any Family issue that might emerge. Because the military JAG Corps does not practice family law, NCNG Soldiers with Family needs requiring legal assistance have, in prior deployments, been required to locate a family law attorney on their own, an extra step that put them at risk for a delayed deployment. Family law attorneys were on call only on the days that fit their schedules and were given the flexibility to respond to the JAG request anytime during the day of the request.
Another disconnect between the military and civilian communities is the unique nature of health issues for returning veterans. Often problems associated with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) don't surface until months after veterans return home, and the telltale symptoms may go undetected for a long time after that. CSSP has focused a lot of energy and resources on the education of health care professionals in communities across the state:
Over the last 12 months, CSSP's
Behavioral Health Initiative has:
* Trained over 1000 local behavioral health and primary care service providers throughout North Carolina.
* Facilitated the addition of 100+ behavioral health professionals to TRICARE, the military's health system.
* Expanded training sites to include locations across Virginia.
* Worked with North Carolina Area L AHEC to create three 30-minute informational podcasts in a Q&A format on combat-related behavioral health issues.
If you would like to listen to the podcasts, they can be found here.
For the folks in the 30th who are about to deploy, I want you to know that our hearts are with you. Our apparent move towards disengagement in Iraq is probably small consolation for you and your families during this time, but we will not forget you.