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FRG's absorb Troop surge impact
Photo and story by Kryn P. Westhoven,, NJDMAVA//PA
TAG at Operation Jump Start
Army-Navy League commander Jack Dale (left) presents a $5,000 check to the Family Readiness Group’s of the Woodbury and Vineland Army National Guard represented by Tina Bell (center), Vineland FRG President and Tracy Kloss (right), Woodbury FRG president on Feb. 24 in Woodbury.

Many of the families of the 117th RSTA (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Target Acquisition) and 250th Brigade Support Battalion watched intently as President George W. Bush addressed the nation about the war in Iraq on Jan. 11. The President’s words “So I’ve committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq” might have made a few families wonder if this would affect planned homecomings just two months away.

It was confirmed shortly after the president’s remarks that the 148 New Jersey Soldiers who had left Camp Shelby, Miss., in March 2006 to deploy to Iraq as part of the BCT would be extended up to 125 days. The Soldiers would be part of the troop surge that would help quell the sectarian violence that was threatening to rip apart Iraq’s fragile democracy.

The importance of the mission did little to comfort the families. “Their reactions were up and down,” said Tina Bell, president of the Vineland Family Readiness Group (FRG). “Some were mad, some were depressed, some were angered; it fluctuated because it was so close to their anticipated coming home.” Since late September and early October 2005 the families had faithfully crossed off days on the calendar looking forward to when the Soldiers would return in March 2007 to the Vineland, Bordentown and West Orange armories. “You have to start the countdown all over again, we were right there.

Now we're back to square one again,” added Bell, whose husband is Sgt. David A. Bell of C Troop, 117th RSTA. The day after the President’s address started early for members of the Army Guard’s Family Programs team. It was a race to call all the families before they found out through the media, as the troop extension became the lead story on the local TV newscasts later that day. As Family Assistance Center coordinators quickly disseminated the information to loved ones, notification seemed to be bogged down in the shifting sands of Iraq. Soldiers who had not yet been notified were questioning the validity of information family members were providing via phone calls and e-mails.

“It was an issue for us because we told the families and then they in turn told their Soldiers and they didn’t know,” said Marie Durling, Family Programs Specialist. “We were all surprised that they (the Soldiers) didn’t know.” That communications breakdown was the hot topic two days later at a series of town hall style meetings held at the three armories.

Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth said the communications problems regarding the troop extension was being given the highest priority of the Department of the Army and the National Guard Bureau. At those meetings Guard senior leaders answered questions on the extension and discussed the services that would be available for the families.

The concern for the effect on the spouses, children, parents, siblings and employers was highlighted with Governor Jon S. Corzine's attendance at the meeting in West Orange. Even with the support of the National Guard extended family, there are the day-to-day issues that have to be handled in every household.

“You still have no one there. You can’t walk into the other room and say to him that the water heater just exploded all over the floor. You have to do it yourself,” said Bell. For the FRG’s at the affected armories the question in the weeks that followed was how to best address possible family issues and if additional fund raising would be needed.

The Woodbury and Vineland FRG’s are sharing a $5,000 donation from the Army and Navy Union, Post 52 of National Park. “Thank god we have the grants that are available that we can push to the families. If it is something small like an electric bill we can just write them a check,” added Bell. Once again these Home Front Heroes are marking off their calendars.

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Volume 33 Number 1 Staff / Information
(c) 2006 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs