By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 12, 2007 – Tapping into lessons learned after an active-duty unit in Alaska had its deployment in Iraq extended, the Defense Department is rushing assets to Minnesota to help families of deployed Guardsmen who learned yesterday of their extension, a senior defense official said today. Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said DoD will offer "a very vigorous" support program for members of the Minnesota Army National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, and their families. DoD announced yesterday that the unit, deployed to Iraq since March 2006, will have its tour extended up to 125 days.
Hall said the Defense Department will jump through hoops to assist troops and families affected by the extension and ensure the Guardsmen's employers know about it.
Teams of experts, including counselors, are already en route to Minnesota to lend assistance, Hall said. In addition, the state's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve network is on line, ready to work with civilian employers affected by the extension.
The family-support program will be patterned much after the one that supported families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Alaska when it received notice just as it was wrapping up its one-year deployment that it would be extended four months.
The Army quickly opened new family assistance centers at Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson to help families deal with nonrefundable airline tickets, powers of attorney that were about to expire, moving concerns and mental health issues when the Stryker Brigade learned of the extension in August. The Army augmented local support staff with child psychologists, adolescent counselors and specially trained chaplains with advanced degrees in family counseling. The post even chartered a plane and offered spouses a free shopping trip to Anchorage, providing child care while they were gone.
Ashley McCulloh, whose husband, Capt. Timothy McCulloh, was among the Stryker Brigade troops extended, said the Army's response helped make the best of a very difficult situation. "They responded quickly and made sure families knew that they were concerned and they cared," McCulloh told American Forces Press Service.
Hall said today that DoD learned a lot from the Styker Brigade's experience and will apply it with the Minnesota National Guard unit. "We have a good model, and we are providing every bit of support that the state, the governor and the adjutant general needs in Minnesota," he said.
DoD officials are working with the state adjutant general, the division commander and elements of the 34th Infantry Division to find out exactly what assistance they need, Hall said.
Many of the same civilian counselors who worked with the Stryker Brigade families after their unit extension will deploy to Minnesota to help Guard families there. "They are very experienced, superb individuals, and they are going to be the ones we put on site to help," Hall said.
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