Army Extends Family Readiness Support Assistants to Battalions

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 17, 2007) - The Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, at the request of senior Army leadership, is expanding the Family Readiness Support Assistant program to reach all the way to the battalion level, Army-wide, to support deployed Soldiers and their Families.

Currently, there are slightly less than 400 FRSAs Army-wide, including Guard and Reserve units. They are primarily contract, term or temporary over-hire positions, funded by war on terror supplemental funding or unit funds, and managed by their respective Army commands. Under the new program, recently approved by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr., the positions will be added to unit manning documents, centrally funded, and FMWRC will provide program oversight.

"Commanders had already identified the need and we're responding," said Brig. Gen. Belinda Pinckney, FMWRC commander. "We're not inventing anything new here. We're taking something that works well and expanding it, providing a uniform level of support to Soldiers and Families Army-wide."

The plan calls for an end-state of as many as 1,100 FRSAs throughout the Army, placing a support assistant in each deployable battalion, brigade, division and corps headquarters. The FRSAs will hold DA Civilian positions at the GS-6 level.

The need for FRSAs was initially identified through the Army Family Action Plan. The FRSAs will remain a component of the unit commander's Family readiness program, and will be supervised by the commander or his designee. Their primary duties will be to provide administrative assistance in support of the unit's Family readiness programs and activities.

Some examples of the duties include assisting with the preparation of pre-deployment and redeployment activities; scheduling and coordinating Family readiness or unit-sponsored training; assisting in developing and distributing unit newsletters; coordinating video teleconferences for Families and deployed Soldiers; and serving as a link between garrison community agencies and the unit. Training for FRSAs will be provided by Army Community Service professionals and Reserve-Component Family Program staff.

Capt. Brian Pugh, rear detachment commander, 54th Engineer Battalion, in Bamberg, Germany, said the FRSA at his unit has been a tremendous asset.

"She performs duties to support the Family Readiness Group leader during deployment, but the FRG leader is a volunteer spouse," Capt. Pugh said. "The FRG is a tremendous asset, and hasn't gone away, but now there's someone in this office eight hours a day and FRG leaders and Family members know right where to come if they need help."

Forces Command has had FRSAs in place for almost two years at the brigade level. FORSCOM spokesman Kim Waldren said the growing number of Soldiers serving multiple deployments drove FRG volunteers into overtime that became impossible to sustain.

By adding a full-time, paid employee to the brigade commander's staff, FRG leaders and Family members were given an easily accessible contact, and the commander was given someone he could hold accountable to ensure Families receive the support needed.

"With an FRSA on staff, I now have someone who is committed to the brigade, but is also a paid employee that I hold accountable for things I need to get done," said Col. Jim Pasquarette, commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

While the bulk of the work an FRSA does is administrative, they also improve connections with other Army support agencies and programs available for Soldiers and Family members.

The position remains in place even when the unit is not deployed, providing continuity in a world climate that requires units to participate in multiple deployments.

"This is such a difficult time for our Soldiers and Families," said Delores Johnson, director of Family Programs at FMWRC, the lead agency in overseeing the expansion of the FRSA program. "We know FRSAs have had an incredible impact at the brigade level, and are thrilled at the opportunity to provide that level of support and assistance to the battalions.

"Anything we can do to make it easier on the Families back home has a direct impact on the morale of the deployed Soldier, as well," she continued. "This is just a win-win situation all around."

(Bill Bradner works for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs.)