WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service ) --
In an age of persistent conflict and geographically dispersed
families, the Army is taking family support to a new level with
virtual installations and virtual Family Readiness Groups (FRG).
The Army Reserve wants to create local and Web-based virtual
installations where families, who may live hundreds of miles from the
nearest installation, can access the same support and resources as
active-duty Soldiers and families, such as: TRICARE, child and youth
services, counseling and chaplain's programs and financial and legal
Capt. Hwajin Hurt welcomes her
husband Capt. Donnie Joe Hurt after he returned from a 15-month
deployment to Iraq (Photo
by Sgt. Robert J. Strain)
"We need to retain these Soldiers and you do that by
retaining the families," said Laura Stultz, wife of Army Reserve
Chief Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz. "If the families feel secure, the
Soldier won't worry about them, and the families will know that their
problems will be looked into. They need the same services that
active-component families have on an installation because their
Soldiers are putting their lives on the same line as everybody else.
They deserve the same degree of help and resources."
She added that they want to have a ZIP-code-based system
online, similar to the search function on http:// www.MyArmyLifetoo.com,
where Soldiers and families can enter their ZIP codes into the Web
site and find the nearest place to get help and the nearest FRG,
whether it is active-duty, Reserve or National Guard.
The next step would be to set up mini-Army Reserve centers in
towns and cities across America, which would function like Army
Community Service offices, repositories for community support,
emergency relief and even places families can go to renew their
"I was just insistent that there be some place that you
can have face-to-face meetings with people.
"A lot of people don't have access to a computer, or
English is their second language, or they just don't know how to
explain their needs on the telephone. I wanted there to be offices or
some place across the country where families could go to and talk to
"In my experience, there are veterans who say 'What can we
do to help?' In some instances, all we'll need to get is a computer
and a telephone hookup for them; and others it will be finding a
place. Some towns we can use the National Guard centers or the
veterans' halls, but if there's no place to put it, we might have to
find our own office space, in a shopping center or something people
can find easily. Hopefully in a few years, everyone will know where it
is, just like they know where the post office is," Stultz said.
Right now, the Army Reserve is beginning focus groups with
families to see where they want these centers and what they want
online. Ideally, the Reserve would begin building the centers near the
heaviest Reserve population centers that are far from installations.
"Family members can find out what's going on with their
unit by logging in (to Virtual FRG). This is an opportunity for
the commander to stay connected."
Automation Manager for the
Family Programs Directory at the
Family, Morale, Welfare and
Located two hours from the nearest FRG with four young children
during her husband's deployments to the Persian Gulf and the Balkans
in the 1990s, Stultz knows how hard it can be to fit crucial support
meetings into busy schedules.
Per the request of families, especially children and teenagers,
she and the Army Reserve are looking to find ways to incorporate chat
rooms on the Web site, and plan to add this feature as soon as they
work out security issues.
Chat rooms, blogs and instant messaging also are a goal of
virtual FRGs, said Shaunya Murrill, the automation manager for the
family programs directory at the Family, Morale, Welfare and
Recreation Command (FMWRC).
She also runs a Virtual FRG for her husband's Indianapolis
Tested in 2004 and launched Armywide in 2006, virtual FRGs are
paid for by FMWRC and are a way for commanders, rear-detachment
commanders and family readiness leaders to provide up-to-date
information to families, even if they are geographically spread out,
as with the reserve component.
"It was never designed to replace the FRG, but it's an
extension of it," said Murrill. "Family members can find out
what's going on with their unit by logging in. This is an opportunity
for the commander to stay connected. I think it's been a valuable tool
to my husband and his colleagues because they don't necessarily have
the time to have a lot of meetings or the funding to bring in families
from across the state. So this is an opportunity for them to get
relevant, pertinent and timely information out."
"If you want to get involved, you see what's available,
you see the calendar, you jump in if you want to, and if you don't,
you don't have to," she continued.
"Before with the telephone tree, when people were doing it
only the old way, people would leave and kind of fall off. Here, you
come in and update your information with the automated telephone
To date, there are about 1,200 sites and 117,000 registered
users throughout the Army. Commanders at the battalion level and up
simply must fill out an application at http://www.ArmyFRG.org,
provide a point of contact and some basic information, and Murrill and
her team set up the site. They provide tutorials for the site manager
and any necessary technical support.
The sites typically include news articles, photos, hyperlinks,
frequently-asked questions and updates from commanders. FMWRC is still
working on the security issues related to blogs and chat rooms, but
the sites can have monitored forums.
Virtual FRGs have undergone the Defense Information Technology
Certification Information Accreditation Process and are completely
Soldiers provide a list of loved ones in writing and the system
automatically generates an invitation to the unit site, complete with
hyperlink. The list can include anyone the Soldier wants: spouse, but
also parents and siblings, for example.
Murrill said the most common feedback she receives are requests
for more interactive features and comments that the Army waited too
long to go virtual, but that she never hears anything bad about the
The best thing, she said, is that instead of families having to
wait for their Soldiers to tell them about events or new initiatives,
the families are often updating the Soldiers.