Family Readiness Groups
A rear detachment commander’s (RDC) greatest combat power comes from the Family Readiness Groups (FRGs). The FRG is the RDC’s program to manage for the deployed commander. This chapter covers thoughts on the FRG from both the RDC’s point of view and the FRG advisor’s point of view.
To understand some of the challenges, the RDC must first gain an understanding of the lines of communications during a deployment - the ever-present grapevine. The strongest link can be the line between Soldier and family, which excludes all official channels.
Figure 5-1: Lines of Communication
Lines of Communication Challenges
- Rumor control
- Communication from Families
- Reverse casualty notifications
- Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP)
- Delegation of responsibilities within the FRG
- Army Community Service (ACS) desk standards
- Deployed spouses
Of the above, the greatest challenge will likely be rumor control. As with most military operations, a commander must develop a command information campaign early. The campaign is designed to provide the Families timely, accurate information they can rely on. A commander can lose the fight on the home front if the grapevine is perceived as more effective than official channels.
Start early! Briefings are the best means to communicate all messages prior to deployment. Make it mandatory for Soldiers to attend and encourage them to bring their spouses so they hear the same messages. Utilize the vFRG Web site to inform those Families who may not be able to attend.
Key points to include in a predeployment briefing are listed below:
- Time line
- Life on the forward operations base
- Return/exemption policy
- Family challenges, expectations, and resources
In addition, it is important to:
- Identify rear detachment (Rear D) and ACS cell personnel.
- Include FRG leaders so they can:
- Meet spouses
- Collect contact data
- Provide point of contact (POC) information
- Know who is remaining and who is "going home" and target each with information - e-mail addresses key.
- Complete family deployment worksheets.
FRG Leader Training
Another key to the campaign is informing and training the FRG leaders themselves. Do not assume FRG leaders from previous deployments fully understand the complexities of the current deployment; each deployment is different. Train the FRG leaders. Treat them with respect and ask for their input. They appreciate the open, honest truth. Training sessions will establish FRG leaders as trusted agents capable of handling the majority of family issues based on the preliminary guidance from the training:
- Brief FRG leaders on Rear D operations.
- Discuss tough subjects openly (e.g., casualty notification).
- Treat leaders with respect and allow them to find solutions.
- Speak with one voice.
- Reinforce good decisions.
The RDC should conduct a monthly FRG leader meeting and lead the discussion. Prior to the meeting, the RDC should meet with the FRG advisor to discuss the agenda. Hand out talking point cards (command message that addresses concerns/rumors) at the meeting down to key caller level. Include Rear D noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Spouses tend to talk to Soldiers they know.
Recognize sponsors and key spouses when appropriate. Recommend that company FRG meetings be held monthly and battalion FRG meetings be held quarterly.
Sample talking points (printed on business cards given to FRG leaders down to key callers)
Home Front Talking Points (May 05)*
1. Stay in your lane.
2. If notified by spouse of injury, contact Rear D desk FIRST! Allow us to research report/status.
3. There are NO changes in deployment length.
4. Maintain your quarters. It is your responsibility.
5. Keep Rear D informed of changes in your life, so we can help you if assistance is required.
*Talking points based upon feedback from FRG leaders on rumors or recurring issues. Beneficial to empower junior leaders to answer questions and reinforce the most important issues.
The RDC’s relationship with the FRG advisor and the FRG leaders must be special. Trust is of utmost importance. Assume everything you do is seen by others - because it is! Innocent interaction can be misinterpreted as something more, so be forewarned. Open, two-way communication is the answer.
Keys to Success - Unit
- ACS cell.
- Mission rehearsal exercises.
- Plan house inspections and home visits:
- Assign two NCOs.
- Complete memorandums for record to document each visit.
- Develop a follow-up plan.
- Update the database.
- Maintain copies of all Soldier Readiness Packets:
- Include in deployment time line
- Scrub, scrub, and re-scrub
- DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Election and Certificate (SGLV 8286)
Keys to Success - FRG
- Clearly define:
- "Green suit" issues versus FRG issues
- Chain of concern
- Delegation within the FRG
- Communication (lateral, vertical, and Rear D)
- Battle drills
- Conduct FRG leaders training.
- Institute a command information campaign.
- Identify trusted individuals.
- Recognize individuals publicly.
Keys to Success - Families
- Clearly define:
- Individual responsibilities
- FRG responsibilities
- Unit responsibilities
- Access the ACS Help Desk and Company Finance NCO.
- Maintain open communication..
- Trust in the FRG and Rear D:
- Attend monthly company FRG meetings.
- Attend quarterly battalion FRG meetings.
- Utilize recognition events (e.g., birth orders for babies born during the deployment).
Establishing a Successful FRG (Battalion Level)
- Identify who is in charge overall. It should always be the RDC!
- FRG leaders are volunteers who freely give of their time out of a willingness to help and a desire to be involved. FRG leaders are not, nor should they be, the ultimate authority.
- The FRG advisor does not have to be the commander’s spouse, but should be someone who can effectively communicate and maintain a good working relationship with the commander.
- The commander should set up an FRG chain of command at battalion level first, then at company level, then platoon. Set suspense dates for placing individuals in the FRG slots.
- Have co-leaders at all levels, if at all possible.
- In garrison, commanders and FRG leaders work very closely together exchanging ideas and desired outcomes.
- When all positions are filled, have a battalion-level FRG meeting with all the FRG leaders and commanders. During the meeting the battalion commander states his intent, explains his role, and explains what he expects from the FRG leaders. The commander should also specify how often they will meet at the battalion level and what sort of things will be discussed/decided at those meetings.
- The commander should also specify how often company-level FRGs should meet.
- Topics that should be discussed at meetings include training calendars, upcoming events, fundraising activities, and money available for events.
- Decide on the most effective form of communication and make sure everyone knows how to access the information.
- Maintain rosters to keep everyone informed.
- Give FRGs the freedom to work within the personalities, work schedules, and motivation levels of the people involved.
- Keep the lines of communication open in order to solve problems before they become disasters.
Enduring a Deployment
- The FRG advisor and the RDC form a new team.
- The FRG leaders transition to a more autonomous role, running their own FRGs and making most of the decisions for the FRG.
- The FRG leaders should have a good working system set up so one person is not doing all the work. The chain of command should already be established with the FRG leaders and POCs down to platoon and squad level, if possible:
- Make sure everyone in the battalion knows that the RDC is in charge. He should have the ultimate authority on issues.
- The FRG leaders at all levels should have open access to the RDC.
- Communication will be the key to success during the deployment.
- Prior to deployment, determine what your role will be in the notification of wounded in action and killed in action, how you will disseminate key dates and information, what you will do if FRG leaders go out of town, and how you will handle memorial services.
- The RDC and the FRG advisor should provide information to the FRG leaders about how to handle the above situations.
- Prior to deployment, determine how often you will meet at the leader levels and how often you want each company to meet; however, allow the company to decide what works best for them.
- Have regularly scheduled (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly determined by your circumstances) battalion leaders’ meetings to decide what information to put out to the Families, to discuss upcoming events, and to brainstorm solutions to problems encountered by lower-level FRGs.
- Company-level FRG leaders should do the same with their POCs.
- Have either the RDC, FRG advisor, or another high-level spouse attend the company-level FRG meetings to see what is going on and to show command presence.
- Decide how you will keep Families not local to your installation informed. A Web site for your battalion is extremely effective. Use the Web site to post regularly scheduled letters written by commanders at all levels, FRG information, upcoming events, pictures, and mailing information.
Relationship Between FRG Leaders, FRG Advisor, and RDC
- Communication is the key! This relationship must be very close and secure. A lot of sensitive information is shared that should not be disseminated to the battalion until it is appropriate.
- Decide who is going to be the primary problem solver. If the FRG leader has a family at home or works, then the RDC should step in as the primary. The FRG leader is a volunteer, the RDC is not. Ultimately, it is a decision that should be made by both. Information should always be shared.
- If the FRG advisor is the battalion commander’s spouse, she must work with both her husband and the RDC. Being truthful, honest, and open during these times will help alleviate any contradictions. Ultimately, the battalion commander is still in charge and so his desires should take precedence.
- Sometimes the FRG advisor will find out information before the RDC knows about it. Always keep the RDC informed and vice versa.
- Put systems in place first.
- Communicate effectively.
- Do not gossip or allow it to continue.
- When in charge, be in charge.
- Quell rumors.
- Be forthcoming and timely with information.
- Spread the workload out among all the leaders. Don’t be afraid to let people take the initiative and work for you. Most often they will follow through and get the job done right.
- Have fun with each other, and allow yourself to learn, grow, and make mistakes.
Family Readiness Group Tips for Avoiding Burnout
- Stick to caring, and let the Army do its part in delivering specific services.
- Stop and take a breath.
- Evaluate what you are doing and set priorities.
- Take care of yourself and your family first.
- Consider using a telephone answering machine.
- Do not try to be “all to all.”
- Mutual support goes both ways. Ask for help!
- Look for your own support in friends, family, church, and ACS.
- Do not overextend yourself.
- Know your limits.
- Make sure you eat and sleep as regularly as possible.
- Dysfunctional Families will devour you. Refer them to professional organizations.
- Understand and stick to the role assigned to you.
- Learn resources for referring problems.
- Do not judge success by numbers.
- Do not measure success in “thank you’s.”
- Do not compare your group to others; this is not a competition.
- Seek advice from senior spouses; they have been where you are now.
- Learn ways to delegate.
- Leadership is a risk; do not try to please everyone.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel; use systems in place.
- Do not be afraid to try something new.
- Be yourself!