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Can't count the days

"Can't count the days" Continued...

Issue: "Foster care's future," March 5, 2005

The stress doesn't end when the rotation is over. Chaplain Timothy Baer of the Virginia National Guard says that the returning spouse has to learn to fit into a household that has learned to operate without him or her. On the other hand, Chaplain Baer says, sometimes the stateside spouse, tired and frustrated after coping alone for months, hands over a box of family responsibilities as soon as the reservist walks in the door. "They say, 'Here honey,' and the spouse is saying, 'Wait a minute, I haven't even got my civilian shoes on yet.'" The families of Guard and Reserve troops can feel these stresses all the more acutely because, unlike living on a base, they are not surrounded by families all going through the same things.

Aware of the problem, the Virginia National Guard has a series of programs to help families cope. Chaplain Baer is in charge of stress debriefings, counseling, and marriage workshops for returning National Guard soldiers, among other services. The Virginia National Guard has also established 26 Family Assistance Centers, spread all over the state, that either refer callers to the appropriate military resource or connect them to community groups like The American Legion. Around 6,000 military family members have called for help with everything from health insurance forms to short-term loans to shoveling snow. Family Readiness Groups, common to all branches of the military, get together for social events, raise money to help member families, and provide a connection for families feeling lost or isolated.

One advantage families of Reserve troops do have, Chaplain Baer points out, is that "the family stays rooted while the dad is gone." Family, friends, and churches are still nearby, providing an "authentic" support system. Mrs. McCarron's parents-in-law, for example, drop by at least once weekly to baby-sit while she goes shopping. After a snow in January, she looked outside and saw neighbors shoveling her driveway. At Christmas members of her church, Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian in Purcellville, set up her tree and dropped off toys, and the Family Readiness Group dropped off gift certificates to Wal-Mart and the local grocery store. Church families take turns bringing her Sunday dinner to take home after service and writing letters to Sgt. McCarron.

But Mrs. McCarron's situation is unusual, says Pastor Almond, who also ministers part-time to the military with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. "We have found people crying out for help," he says. To help churches (and other organizations) reach out to military families, he pulled together a committee of 14 military chaplains and Guard and Reserve officials to write a manual describing the various resources available to military families and suggesting ways to be helpful. The manual, due out this month, is not evangelistic, he says, in that clergy from any religion would find it useful He'll provide it free to any who ask. "We think it's going to plant a lot of seeds," he says.

-with reporting by Daniel Archer

Ten ways to reach out

Pastor Johnny Almond says that what churches do is not as important as showing that they care about the families of deployed soldiers. It should go beyond posting a picture on a bulletin board. "Befriend them. I can't think of anything more important," he says. "Someone needs to be a neighbor. They're hurting more than most people realize." Among his suggestions:

· Develop a core of people committed to ministering to military families.

· Provide Bible study groups taught by people with military backgrounds.

· Be available in times of crisis, from illness to money issues.

· Provide meeting spaces for Family Readiness Groups or other support organizations.

· Send care packages to deployed soldiers.

· Provide counseling for spouses and dependents.

· Offer to "check up" on spouses and dependents.

· Provide "handyman" support for yard, home, and car repairs.

· Offer financial management seminars.

· Be hospitable.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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