Frequently Asked Questions on
Rear Detachment Operations
These frequently asked questions and associated answers were consolidated from multiple Family Readiness Group (FRG) panel discussions by a former rear detachment commander (RDC).
Q: How were you selected to be the RDC?
A: I was the most experienced and senior company commander in the battalion, and I had earned the complete trust of the battalion commander. It was a tough day for both of us when he told me of his decision. It was the greatest professional kick in the stomach, yet also the greatest professional compliment – the commander was entrusting the care of his family and the Families of his Soldiers to me!
Q: What was your relationship with the FRG leader/advisor?
A: Simply put…a platonic marriage! We talked constantly. Sometimes about serious issues, sometimes about nothing in particular, and sometimes just to vent in a no-threat environment. She was my sounding board, as I had been a career single Soldier. As the battalion FRG advisor, she and I worked closely to develop our messages and always speak with one voice. There were times and issues where she took the lead and other times where I took the lead. We always met before each monthly FRG key leader meeting to discuss our agenda and ensure we were in agreement prior to talking with the other leaders. She was also invaluable in sharing communications with her husband, since she talked to him more frequently than I did. We were careful to not violate any trust, and venting sessions were not shared with others, to include spouses.
The advisor and I also met multiple times prior to the deployment to discuss issues and topics to help determine ways to handle certain situations. We defined “green-suit issues” versus FRG issues early. It was very clear that as the RDC, I was in charge when a decision was needed. I made a concerted effort to include input from the FRG leaders so I could make informed decisions. The Rear D and the FRG are one team!
Q: What was your greatest challenge?
A: Rumor control! I instituted a home front information operations campaign plan. The plan included:
- Monthly company-level FRG meetings. I attended to answer questions or brief the group on the current situation, especially early in the deployment.
- Quarterly battalion-level FRG meetings. I used “hero tapes” made in Iraq to show the Families what their Soldiers were doing.
- Talking points. I gave the FRG leaders a business card-size handout with our monthly talking points to give to each point of contact (POC). The talking points were developed to answer the most crucial questions, concerns, or rumors as reported by the FRG leaders. This allowed POCs at the lowest level to answer questions and address rumors or concerns.
- Battalion Web site. Open source of information for Families and friends, with contact information to Rear D. OPSEC must be maintained. As the RDC, I reviewed everything that went onto the Web site, to include letters from the company commanders.
- ACS desk. We maintained a 24/7 desk in the ACS building for each Rear D to serve as the POC for the unit. This was efficient in giving the unit access to ACS agencies to help Families. I dedicated a platoon of seven soldiers - an E6, three E5s, and three E4s - for this mission. They were an intricate part of the information flow.
Q: How did you incorporate others into the FRG (extended Families, parents of single Soldiers, and girlfriends/fiancees)?
A: The unit Web site is the best means for sharing information and including others. I relied upon the FRG leaders to update their rosters and maintain communication with Rear D Soldiers at the ACS desk to keep our contact information current. We also included a place for Soldiers to designate others to receive information from the unit as part of the predeployment processing worksheet. Soldiers could also contact us from Iraq if they wanted to have someone removed from their list.
Q: How did you get people to participate in the FRG or at least attend meetings?
A: It is important for the FRG to be functional prior to a deployment. The FRG must be there in case of tragedies or natural disasters to provide that mutual care and comfort. Socialize early and often. Company commanders must actively encourage attendance at FRG meetings. I even allowed Soldiers to bring their wives to the meetings. The Soldiers would then go hang out while the FRG leader and I conducted the meeting. This reduced the anxiety of the Soldier and his spouse in regards to the purpose of the FRG.
I recommend getting input from as many spouses as possible to identify topics they would be interested in learning about and then use that list to target each FRG meeting to address a topic or two.
I also mandated that each company have an FRG meeting within the first ten days of the deployment. This is the time where Soldiers are out of contact with their spouses, so the spouses are actively seeking any information they can receive.
Q: What is your best advice to future commanders and FRG leaders/advisors?
A: Family Readiness is directly linked to retention.
- Commanders and command sergeants major:
- Pick your Rear D team wisely. The RDC will need to operate in your stead and be capable of conducting operations when out of contact with you.
- Train the Rear D and FRG. Have the team in place and operational during the mission rehearsal exercise and have them exercise their systems. This rehearsal is also beneficial for the Families to prepare for the deployment; this is their training to support their Soldier.
- Inform both the RDC and the Families. Include communications with the RDC in your battle rhythm. It is okay to just call and chat; commanders need commander fellowship. Make the time in your battle rhythm to write a letter to the Families that can be posted on the Web site. Address individual units throughout the deployment so Families see their Soldiers’ units getting recognized.
- FRG and RDC:
- You are a team.
- Understand you will not make everyone happy. It is okay to be imperfect. Do not take things personally.
- Use teams and delegate. This is a marathon. Use co-leaders at all levels, and ensure that leaders also get some vacation time. We formed Family Care Teams (FCT) to provide care and comfort to Families of Soldiers who are killed in action or missing in action. We used trauma counselors and chaplains to train the teams on a volunteer basis. They were used to provide care and comfort to the family until the spouse no longer requested their assistance. This team was only used when desired by the spouse.
- Open communication. FRG leaders must maintain open communication with their Soldiers and the RDC. Understand that the RDC needs to understand the dynamics of your unit.
- Identify “green suit” issues versus FRG issues ahead of time.
- Teach and train the FRG. I did not realize the importance of training the FRG leadership just prior to the deployment on topics including Rear D task organization and mission, casualty notification procedures, and command philosophy. This began the “one team, one fight” mentality between the FRG leaders and myself. They understood my capabilities and limitations. They also answered many questions at their level without elevating it to my level, thus freeing me to concentrate on priority missions and issues.
- Do not be afraid to make adjustments. We held a wounded-in-action roundtable discussion at the eighth or ninth month mark to identify where we could better care for wounded soldiers and their Families. No standing operating procedures or plans were immune to change if they were not meeting the standard or need.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and standardize casualty notification procedures and memorials. We rehearsed casualty notification battle drills and memorial ceremonies monthly. We completed a full memorial rehearsal, sometimes including the FRG team, monthly. The salute squad practiced the 21-gun salute weekly. We developed kits to standardize the entire memorial ceremony. The FRG fielded a three-person team to set up the reception areas, the foyer, and the family room.