Story by Timothy Hale
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – When catastrophic flooding hit Tennessee in 2010, affected Army Reserve soldiers and their families received a helping hand by simply talking with someone on the telephone – hundreds of miles away.
The U.S. Army Reserve Command Family Programs Directorate, using their staff from the Fort Family – AR call center, leveraged resources in the state for the Soldiers until the danger had passed.
“We had nine Soldiers identified from the Army Reserve that we were able to assist,” said Sonia Wriglesworth, USARC Family Programs director.
She said her staff coordinated with a U.S. Navy activity in the area to find temporary housing, and faith-based organizations to provide clothing and food.
“This is us building a community capacity and leveraging what we have so we can connect the Soldiers and Families with resources closest to where they are,” she said.
Wriglesworth said the key to the success of Fort Family is that “we connect people to people.”
Born out of necessity
When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, Soldiers redeploying to Fort Polk from overseas combat tours had a tough time finding their Families amid the chaos and widespread destruction, Wriglesworth said, who at the time was working at Headquarters, Department of the Army Family Programs at the Installation Management Command.
“Very quickly the active component, (Army) Reserve, and (National) Guard came together to develop a strategy,” she said. “We learned from that experience that we had no accountability system; we had no way to connect the Families.”
Fast forward to 2009 when Wriglesworth became the USARC Family Programs director. During a meeting with all the Family Program directors and coordinators across the Army Reserve, the 108th Training Command revealed their Fort Family program they had developed.
“It didn’t take me but a minute to realize that we needed that for the Army Reserve,” she said.
After speaking with Maj. Gen. James B. Mallory, III, then the 108th commanding general, Wriglesworth said he “graciously agreed” to let USARC Family Programs implement Fort Family across the entire Army Reserve.
Building connections and resources
Fort Family is a delivery model designed to provide resources to Soldiers and their Families ranging from help finding jobs to housing and financial resources or just simple information and referral services, Wriglesworth said.
With the majority of Army Reserve Soldiers geographically dispersed across the country, having the ability to reach out to someone for assistance is vitally important, she said. One of the key components of this is the ability to map resources.
“So when we build a community database, we can map that,” she said. “At the same time, we have the database of Soldiers. So putting those together, now we have where the Soldier lives and what’s around them in terms of resources. That’s the beauty of Fort Family.”
Getting the information into the hands of the Soldiers and their Families rests on the shoulders of nine telephone call center operators. Working in shifts, they man the phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
But they don’t just sit by and wait for the phone to ring. They also provide proactive outreach services to Soldiers and Families.
“I think the majority of service members appreciate the call,” said Marie Obiekwe, the Fort Family Outreach & Support program manager. “It’s a quality of life or well-being call. We are not telemarketers.”
Obiekwe said the outreach calls are made on behalf of the USARC leadership to make contact with Soldiers and Families to find out what their needs are – if there are any.
“If anything comes up, they know our operation is available to assist,” Obiekwe said.
“I think it’s important be 24/7, you know, to be here for some of the people that do call in the wee hours of the morning,” said Toundred Bond, a Fort Family Outreach & Support specialist, who has worked the night shift for three years.
“For example, I got a call last night from a young man who was looking for a job,” Bond said. She said she sent him some resources in his area and about an hour later, he called back and thanked her for the information.
“It makes me feel good,” Bond said. “It’s also a rewarding thing when whatever information you pass on to them they decide to take advantage of it. I’m not saying they all do, but I hope they all do. But the ones that do, they will call you back and say, ‘thank you’.”
To reach the reach the Fort Family information call 1-866-345-8248 or visit the Army Reserve Family Programs website at www.arfp.org