Va. Guard Family Programs receives accreditation for services, assistance, support it provides across the community

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, assists in recognizing and honoring Virginia National Guard volunteers July 18, 2015, in Richmond, Va., at the 2015 Virginia National Guard State Volunteer Recognition Workshop. Commanders from the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Bowling Green-based 91st Troop Command, Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group and the Fort Pickett-based Joint Force Headquarters also recognized volunteers for their work over the past year. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, assists in recognizing and honoring Virginia National Guard volunteers July 18, 2015, in Richmond, Va., at the 2015 Virginia National Guard State Volunteer Recognition Workshop. Commanders from the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Bowling Green-based 91st Troop Command, Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group and the Fort Pickett-based Joint Force Headquarters also recognized volunteers for their work over the past year. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, VA – Virginia National Guard Family Programs received notification on Aug. 15, 2015, that it was officially accredited by the Council on Accreditation, becoming one of only 11 National Guard Family Programs offices in the nation to receive that honor.

“It’s a big deal and a great accomplishment,” Vickie Sais, state Family Programs director for the Virginia Guard, said of the evaluation, which took more than a year to complete. “It says we are providing the highest caliber of services to service members and families of the Virginia Army and Air Guard. It brings credibility to our program and shows what we are doing right and what we can continue to work on.”

Family Programs LogoThe Family Programs office provides a variety of assistance and support statewide to Virginia Guard Soldiers, Airmen and their family members, as well as military service members and veterans from other branches. Whether it’s prepping families for a deployment or providing assistance to Soldiers, Airmen and their families while in routine operations, Family Programs staff and volunteers go out of their way to make a difference in the life of those connected to the military.

“Our mission is to assist our service members and their families, train volunteers and commanders and support them all in any status they may be in,” Sais said. “The National Guard is unique and can be very challenging for families.”

Since first joining the Virginia Guard organization seven years ago, she says she has seen numerous changes.

“Our emphasis when I first started was deployments,” she said. “We still have deployments but we also emphasize going out into the community to further develop our partnerships and resources for our service members. Now it is a balance of both.”

Virginia Guard Family Programs includes Family Assistance Centers, the Family Readiness Program, Child and Youth programs, the Yellow Ribbon program, Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve and the Transition Assistance Advisor.

The Virginia National Guard has seven Family Assistance Centers located throughout Virginia – Abingdon, Fort Pickett, Martinsville, Norfolk, Sandston, Staunton and Warrenton.

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, recognizes Jenna Ford as the 2014 Volunteer of the Year for Region 3 Aug. 26, 2015, in Sandston, Va. Joining Williams for the presentation were Vickie Sais, state Family Programs director, Lt. Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, and Ford’s husband Capt. Mark Ford and their children. Each year the National Guard Bureau Family Programs Office recognizes one adult volunteer from each of the 10 regions who shows outstanding and exceptional service. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, recognizes Jenna Ford as the 2014 Volunteer of the Year for Region 3 Aug. 26, 2015, in Sandston, Va. Joining Williams for the presentation were Vickie Sais, state Family Programs director, Lt. Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, and Ford’s husband Capt. Mark Ford and their children. Each year the National Guard Bureau Family Programs Office recognizes one adult volunteer from each of the 10 regions who shows outstanding and exceptional service. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Family Assistance Centers are considered a one-stop shop for those who need services and support. Through partnerships with local and national organizations, along with agencies such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Red Cross, and by working closely with military personnel such as chaplains, commanders, JAG officers and volunteers, Family Assistance Center specialists are able to provide a multitude of resources and assistance.

Some of the areas in which a FAC specialist can provide assistance include TRICARE, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, military identification cards, financial and legal assistance, employment assistance and crisis intervention.

Teresa Merritt is the Virginia National Guard FAC coordinator. A Guard spouse herself, Merritt said she understands what Guard families go through. However, the Guard now “is so diverse that everyone’s needs are different.”

That means the Family Assistance Center specialists must be knowledgeable on a wide variety of issues. But they don’t just provide these services to Guard Soldiers and Airmen. Family Assistance Centers are available to service members and families of any military branch, active or reserve component.

“Our FACs help anyone no matter what service they are,” Sais said.

With the current deployments, the FACs reach out monthly to the family members of the deployed. They check on their well being, get to know them individually and strive to take care of the family members of deployed service members.

“We are here to take care of the families should they need it,” Merritt said. “This way the Soldiers know they have trained staff ready to help if needed and that gives them comfort to better focus on their mission.”

In addition to Family Assistance Centers and Family Assistance Center specialists, there are also Family Readiness Support assistants throughout the state. FRSAs work in support of commanders to assist with family readiness responsibilities. They also serve as the conduit for command information and coordination pertaining to family readiness throughout the command. Finally, FRSAs provide hands-on training, and information to subordinate unit commanders and unit family readiness groups.

Family Assistant Center specialists and Family Readiness Support assistants are both vital to the Family Programs mission but they are very distinct from each other, with very different missions.

Terese Donovan, a FRSA, first became involved with FRGs when her husband was in the Guard. He’s since retired but she has continued to serve. Donovan has seen first-hand how family readiness groups help Soldiers and how they can help take care of families.

Jenna Ford, the FRG leader for Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was recently honored as the 2014 Volunteer of the Year for Region 3 of the National Guard. Each year the National Guard Bureau Family Programs Office recognizes one adult volunteer from each of the 10 regions who shows outstanding and exceptional service.

Whether it’s Family Readiness or Youth Programs, volunteers are the ones who make many of the organization’s events actually happen. To recognize and thank the volunteers who give so much time, a recognition ceremony and workshop for volunteers is held annually. The 2015 Virginia National Guard State Volunteer Recognition Workshop & Youth Symposium was held July 18, 2015, in Richmond. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, joined the commanders of several Virginia National Guard commands to recognize and honor the volunteers for all of their work over the past year.

Campers conduct a flag ceremony outside the chow hall at the 2015 Virginia National Guard Youth Camp July 30, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. Each day at the camp began and ended with a flag ceremony. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Campers conduct a flag ceremony outside the chow hall at the 2015 Virginia National Guard Youth Camp July 30, 2015, at Camp Pendleton, Va. Each day at the camp began and ended with a flag ceremony. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Meanwhile Child and Youth Programs aim to engage, empower and educate Virginia National Guard youth and families through programming, education and community awareness.

“In support of the overall Family Program’s mission, the National Guard Youth Program has provided support to the youth of Soldiers and Airmen as they transition into and out of deployment,” said Joe Duerksen, lead child and youth coordinator for the Virginia National Guard. “Our goal is to develop connections and strengthen relationships to prepare youth for the changing landscape of military family life.”

The Airman and Family Readiness Program was also able to showcase their service delivery to the service members and families during the accreditation process. This program focuses on three areas- pre-separation counseling, personal financial readiness, and deployment cycle support featuring classes, and resources.

As Soldiers and Airmen prepare to deploy overseas, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program provides National Guard members and their family with access to local programs, resources, referrals, and services to minimize stress on families and service members during the different phases of deployment.

YRRP consists of a series of events at key stages in the deployment cycle such as pre-deployment, during deployment and post-deployment. Family Programs conducted numerous Yellow Ribbon events this summer, for both Soldiers, Airmen and their families who were deploying and for ones who were returning from overseas missions.

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves also falls under the Family Programs umbrella. Among ESGR’s prime objectives are gaining and maintaining support from employers for National Guard and Reserve service, educating customers and stakeholders, and advocating within the Department of Defense for National Guard and Reserve employers.

Finally, when Soldiers and Airmen leave the National Guard, that doesn’t mean the National Guard leaves them. The Virginia National Guard Transition Assistance Advisor provides information and assistance to Guard members and their families in understanding and obtaining benefits and services through Veterans Affairs and the military health system. The office also assists in the application and submission of disability compensation claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and provides referral service to state and local veteran resources.

“These are just a few examples and not an all-inclusive list,” explained Dorian Bell, Virginia Guard TAA. “As the Virginia National Guard Transition Assistance Advisor, it is my honor to serve the fine men and women who selflessly serve the commonwealth in navigating the maze of benefits they are entitled to receive.”

The staff members of Family Programs are a mix of federal technicians, contractors, and Soldiers on temporary orders. But no matter their status, they are united in their dedication, according to Sais.

“Everyone we have on staff does the job because they love helping service members and their families,” she said. “They really enjoy what they do and that shows in their work and all the events we have.”