Archive for FRG

Role of Commanders' Spouses in FRGs

Drinkwine FRG LeaderLeslie Drinkwine, wife of a Brigade Commander, has been banned from her FRG due to an investigations into her actions:

Commander’s wife banned from brigade [EXCERPTS...Click Title for Full Article]

…The confrontation between Leslie Drinkwine and Jenio was emblematic of an environment within the 4th Brigade, particularly its family readiness group, that was so toxic that it triggered an investigation by a three-star general.

Leslie Drinkwine’s influence was “negative, divisive and harmful,” several FRG advisers told investigators.

What’s more, the investigation concluded that the 4th BCT’s commander, Col. Drinkwine — who told battalion commanders “my wife speaks for me” — was his wife’s “key enabler.” Col. Drinkwine not only failed to dispel the perception that his wife “held a level of authority that resembled command authority,” he worsened it, the investigation concluded.

The findings — accompanied by more than two dozen sworn statements many of which describe Leslie Drinkwine’s allegedly abusive manner and widespread use of her husband’s rank to harass and bully the brigade’s officers and their wives — led 18th Airborne Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick to ban Leslie Drinkwine from any and all contact with the FRG and the rest of the brigade.

In his sworn statement, Col. Drinkwine denies any wrongdoing by himself or his wife and attributes the FRG’s dysfunction to “the inability of a few ladies to work professionally with one another.” Leslie Drinkwine strongly denies her influence could affect careers and says that she “felt humiliated, her reputation defamed and slandered” by an earlier decision to remove her as FRG adviser.

Both Col. and Leslie Drinkwine declined to be interviewed for this story. [...]

Now, I do not know any of the people involved. The letters section of the most recent Army Times includes several letters or online postings from people who claim to have known Mrs. Drinkwine and vouch for her as an ethical and concerned FRG leader. Without having been there, I can’t say whether or not the allegations are true. If they are, certainly the actions were completely inappropriate.

Without making any judgments in this particular situation, I wanted to give my community a chance to discuss some of the issues raised.

I have never heard a spouse threaten another spouse’s soldier’s career.  However, I have heard from some spouses that they feel that their participation (or lack there of) as an FRG volunteer could affect their soldier’s career negatively.

There is also the issue of officers’ wives pulling rank.  The only case I ever personally came across was when one of our key callers was screamed at by an NCO’s wife because, as the wife of “just a specialist” she had “no business” calling an NCO’s wife to share information.  Again, however, I have heard plenty of second and third hand stories about officer’s wives who seem to think they have command authority.

I’ve also witnessed a conflict of personality between FRG leaders and a senior commander’s wife–but this was kept between these wives and did not spill over into the rest of the FRG or affect anyone’s career.

On the one hand, I think it is important to remember that FRG leaders are unpaid volunteers.  They have demands placed on them from the command structure (who in turn have demands placed on them from their superiors) and the families.  They work the equivalent of a part or full time job for free.  Perhaps this sort of position attracts petty dictators but I would have to imagine that the majority volunteer because they care deeply about the family’s in their soldier’s unit.

The spouses of senior commanders also tend to be older and have more experience as military spouses.  So, it is natural that they have some level of authority within the structure of the FRG–but this should not translate into command authority.

On the other hand, there is no excuse for the sort of nasty behavior alleged in the article.

I think that incidents like these argue for a professionalization of the Family Readiness Group.  There should be Battalion level, paid FRG coordinators for any unit that has received deployment orders.  Volunteers can help with making phone calls, writing articles for the newsletter, running bake sales, etc.

Have you ever encountered a spouse who has “pulled her husband’s rank”? How did you handle it?  How can the military overhaul the FRG structure to make it more professional?  (Please, do not use anyone’s full name in your comments…use pseudonyms or first names only.)

Army National Guard Family Readiness Group

If you are National Guard, I’d love to hear about your Family Readiness Group.

While my husband was active duty, I ran one FRG long-distance (during his OCS–and we were spread out throughout the country) and was the co-leader for another (while his unit was deployed).

During the last year he has been in the National Guard. No one has contacted me about any sort of family group, although I received some general information about the National Guard family programs when DH first joined his unit. They seemed interested in volunteers, but only mentioned something about me going to a training program and that was the last I heard of it.

Now DH is about to take command. His unit is not slated to deploy as a unit during his command. I’m not sure what, if any, contact from me would be desirable for the families. A simple letter just so you know my name and contact information should you ever want to reach me? An invitation to a family day? Monthly e-mail updates about the unit’s training?

So, any insight from y’all would be much appreciated. Feel free to answer whichever questions you like and add your own thoughts:

Have you been contacted by an FRG representative?

If so, was that representative military personnel, a civilian employee, or a family volunteer?

Is your spouse deployed/deploying?

Is your spouse’s NG unit deploying as a unit?

Are there events (Holiday Parties, Picnics, etc.) hosted for families in your spouse’s unit and, if so, have you attended? Why or why not?

Would you attend family events if you were available on that date? Why or why not?

What would you like to see from an NG FRG while your spouse is stateside?

What about while your spouse is deployed?

What information would you like to receive in a letter from your spouse’s commander and/or the FRG leader?

Congratulations, Captain Dad!

Today DH, aka Super Dad, was promoted to Captain Dad! Then we had the Hail and Farewell and the Battalion commander made a nice speech about Captain Dad and then made a nice speech about me and gave me a coin–which is a huge honor. He is very restrained with the awards.

It was at a casual family place and Baby Diva had a lot of fun being passed around and eating guacamole.

I’ll try to post pics this weekend.

It is really hitting me today that we have very little time left here and soon I will be a National Guard spouse instead of an active duty Army wife! There is so much to do!!! So, blogging will no doubt be very light, but I am sure I will have an amusing story or two to relate once we move.

So Captain Dad just walked in from his going away/promotion party out with the men and his soldiers made him a huge framed penant with his platoon, his name, his unit, an Iraqi flag, OIF medal, rank during deployment, a plaque thanking him for leading them all home safely, and they all wrote notes and signed it. It is so incredibly touching. Here are these tough, macho soldiers and they really respect and care about my husband. Captain Dad doesn’t cry, but I just might!

Army Needs to Reevaluate FRGs

I hope the military is still lurking on my blog (thanks for that temporary spike in traffic, BTW), because I have something to say.

You need to reevaluate the Family Readiness Groups.

Ultimately, when you rely purely on volunteers, you are going to get uneven results–which is disheartening and unfair to those who not getting the good results.

True, spouses are theoretically adults (although we have a few show up who are 16-19). Still, supporting the spouse supports the mission AND improves retention rates. You want that guy to re-up? Convince his wife first.

This is no longer the 1950s. Not all commanding officers are married. Those who are often have wives who do not have the time or interest to run an FRG. Not to mention some commanders are now women–and, sorry but its true, male spouses just do not get as involved with the FRG.

Technically, the FRG is the commander’s responsibility. He is supposed to select someone to run the group. Assuming he is unmarried or his wife is not available/interested, though, who does he ask?

Obviously the 1st Sgt’s wife, since he is your right hand man and he can update his wife on all of the necessary information from the Company side.

What if she is not available? Hit up the Lieutenant’s and Platoon Sergeant’s Spouses.

Okay, they aren’t available either (or do not exist…most of the Lt’s in our Battalion are fresh out of college).

So, what, you ask? After all, your husband’s rank has nothing to do with you, right? Right. Except that the key information (especially during deployment) comes from the officers/senior NCOs and you get a lot better information out of someone if you are married to that person.

Also, the volunteers are doing this for the spouses and the warm fuzzy of helping people…but ultimately the FRG is the commander’s responsibility. If the FRG leader is not your wife or the wife of a good friend, well…it is harder to expect her to be accountable to you or even care if you look good or not.

So, now what?

Now you are put in a position where you need to locate a spouse who is (A) available; (B) mature; and (C) actually wants to do this (as opposed to is intimidated because of your status as his or her spouse’s commander).

In case you haven’t noticed, rare is the talented, educated go-getter today who does not have interests and obligations outside of his or her spouse’s career. Such creatures exist, but you have to be lucky to find one in a random handful of people.

Not to mention, assuming you find a person who fits the bill, you will have a big responsibility to make sure the lines of communication are open. I cannot even count the times I’ve heard someone complain that their FRG has not contacted them. Well, it is hard for the FRG to contact the spouses if we are not given the spouses’ contact information. Our FRG had to spy, bribe, and cajole to get that info. This is ridiculous. That information should automatically be updated for the FRG leader when new soldiers inprocess…

Okay, so you’ve located the right person for the job. You e-mail that person every week. This can work.

Except that person is now commiting a MINIMUM of 20 hours a month if you have good volunteers. BARE MINIMUM. Most FRG leaders probably spend about 40-50 hours a month, even with a co-leader helping out.

Now, let’s think about other volunteer organizations. Other volunteer organizations (United Way, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) have a PAID STAFF that uses volunteers for specific tasks.

So, the military tested a program this year (at least at this post) with a paid assistant for every Brigade–a civilian. Unfortunately, they did not provide a list of what she could and could not do for us…despite our repeated requests. No doubt future funding will not be approved because the program was “under utilized.”

So, here’s what you need to do, if you are listening:

1. Assign a member of Rear D (not the commander, but preferably a junior officer or senior NCO) to be in charge of the FRG at the Battalion level. This soldier will be accountable to the commander and organize monthly meetings, publish and mail a monthly newsletter, manage the FRG account, and coordinate the volunteer efforts–volunteers can host socials, bring food to meetings, make carepackages, plan kids activities, write articles for the newsletter, fundraise, etc.

2. If a soldier submits paperwork in regards to having a spouse, that information needs to be automatically communicated to the FRG Battalion Liason. That person will make initial contact with each spouse. If that spouse would like FRG contact, that spouse’s contact information will then be passed on to the spouses’ group.

There. Problem Solved. Next!!!

Free Food and an Award–and STILL they won't show up

Tonight we had the Brigade Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony. Last thing I need is another certificate and pin, but I went to honor the other ladies in our Battery and Battalion.

Of course, hardly anyone in our Battalion showed up–just a handful of others who, like me, already have volunteer of the month and/or year awards from the Division, and just came to honor the others.

At least the ceremony was brief and I got a different pin this time. They gave us a heart pin…to add to the Battalion, Brigade, and Division pins. I need to get a gold-toned charm necklace so I can wear them all without feeling like a soldier (with my resume pinned to my chest).

FRG Leadership Change Up

Last night I was about to post about how happy I was that although there would be a couple of changes of command this summer, my husband’s commander would not be one of them.

Well, this afternoon I got a little surprise–the commander’s talents have been requested (read ordered) elsewhere. A whole other unit, in fact!

When the FRG Leader made the announcement at the FRG meeting tonight, one of the ladies turned to me and said, “Does that mean you are taking over?”

Heh.

Well, the new commander is married, but his wife has not shown any prior interest in FRG activities. So, one of the following will happen:

1. She will suddenly decide to be active now that it is her husband’s responsibility.

2. Our current FRG leader will stay on. If her husband were just moving to staff within the same unit, that would be more likely. With her husband in a different unit (though still in the division), I am not sure she’ll want to do it.

3. No one else will want to do it…which always for some reason means I do it.

How on earth I will manage if #3 is the case, I do not know. I’m really not sure I can with the baby coming shortly on the heels of the command change, plus having a rather intense placement for the League next year.

On the one hand, I am already doing a lot, and at half capacity I would still be better than no one at all. I suppose anything is better than nothing. Besides, it would not be for very long before the men returned…and then the job would be easier.

On the other hand, I can never force myself to do anything half-way.

I am getting ahead of myself, though. There are two other possibilities ahead of this option.

I will cross this bridge when, and if, I come to it.

FRG-filled Week

We’ve had the first marriage meltdown of the deployment.

A soldier came home on midtour leave to discover that his wife had spent all of their money on her live-in lover and was neglecting their child.

She quickly agreed to a divorce and to give him custody. He made arrangements for his mother to take the toddler, but at the last minute, mom’s boyfriend nixed the idea. The father-in-law is a registered sex offender, so that eliminated the in-laws.

The Platoon Sergeant, who is a top-notch soldier, asked him mother if she could take the child for the rest of the deployment; the amazingly kind and generous lady agreed.

I had once helped this wife get groceries when we were anticipating a storm. We knew that she was a little on the irresponsible side, but had no warning that the situation had gotten this bad. She had moved out of state during the deployment, though, so she was somewhat off of our radar.

The soldier spent his leave getting divorce and custody paperwork done and transporting his child back to our area.

Last night we had our Officers’ Wives Coffee–normally this is a social gathering for all of the Officers’ and First Sergeants’ wives…but very few officers in our Battalion are married and of those who are, their spouses just don’t seem interested. So, we usually have about four to sixe people show up. Still, it is nice to get together.

Then, this morning was the Battalion steering committee meeting, or as our new fearless leader likes to call it, the Battalion “Huddle.” These are always fun…two of the FRG leaders are not married to the commanders and do not get much support from the commanders. Also, we discovered that at least one soldier is not on the Rear D commander’s list. I do not understand how the military can have such a poor record keeping system.

Then we discussed the Video Teleconference Call that FRG and Battalion leadership was supposed to have. We are hoping to turn this into a call for families…we’ll see how that goes.

Well, that was my FRG-filled week.