Alabama National Guard reaches out to community initiative for support

MONTGOMERY, AL., -- The Alabama National Guard has joined forces with the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative (ACHMI) in an effort to better educate various state agencies about the monumental stress families face during a deployment cycle.

Maj. Gen. Abner C. Blalock, adjutant general of Alabama, and representatives from the Joint Family Support Assistance Program (JFSAP) attended the 2009 Regional Healthy Marriages, Healthy Families, and Responsible Fatherhood Conference held recently in Montgomery.

The conference was a combined cooperative effort to raise awareness of the importance of healthy marriages, to provide educational resources for citizens and the professionals and volunteers who work with them, and to document the impact of these programs.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001, approximately 13,500 Soldiers and Airmen from the Alabama National Guard have deployed in the Global War on Terror (GWOT).  With nearly 3000 more Soldiers and Airmen expected to deploy during calendar year 2009, the need for support and volunteer agencies is ever growing.

"The military does a great job of preparing Soldiers and Airmen for success in combat, but we do not do a good job preparing the spouses and children of our Soldiers and Airmen for the stressors of the separation and deployment," said Blalock.     Blalock cited that of the 13,500 Soldiers and Airmen who have deployed in the GWOT, 85 percent don't live near military installations.

"They don't have the support mechanisms that our comrades stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base or Fort Benning might have," said Blalock.

For this reason, it is imperative to educate state agencies and volunteer organizations about the programs and resources available to our Soldiers and Airmen as well as their families.  Representatives from the JFSAP conducted a Making Marriage Work After Combat workshop during the conference.

The workshop explored the specific stressors on military marriages: physical and emotional separation; the inability to work on a problem as a couple; the physical limitations on communication; problems with children and operating as a single parent; and dealing with trauma, grief, and injuries resulting from combat.

"When a Soldier or Airman comes back from a deployment, all too often they are not the same person who left.  That causes stress, especially for spouses and children," Blalock said.

Patricia Dumas, a military family life consultant, opened the workshop by handing each participant a letter.  The instructions were simple, "read and record your feelings."  The letter stated that "you" have been ordered to active duty and are to deploy for a combat mission overseas within the next 30 days.

Though this letter was an exaggeration used to educate the class, Lt. Col. Henry Beaulieu, a chaplain in the Alabama National Guard, received such a letter in the summer of 2006.

"When you get the news, your heart drops into your big toe," explained Beaulieu.

Beaulieu's experiences helped to enlighten the civilian audience of the specific strains that confront a military marriage during the deployment cycle and the best practices to assist in keeping a military family connected.

The state agency representatives who attended the conference and workshop now have the knowledge of how to get help for a military family in need.  Capt. Wylly Collins, Alabama state chaplain, explained it best, "You don't have to know everything about the military to help - you just have to care."

"I am very grateful for your support," said Blalock.  "I'm thankful that we have citizens in this state and country who are willing to take the time to do what's right for those of us who wear the uniform."