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Military spouses prepare the way ahead

Patti Brown, spouse of Lt. Gen Robert B. Brown, I Corps commanding general, introduces herself to fellow senior-leader spouses at a conference Sept. 12 at the McChord Collocated Club. Family Readiness Group leaders and senior leader spouses were invited t

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Army Senior leader spouses joined forces to share ideas at an off-site conference Sept. 12 to 13 at the McChord Collocated Club to prepare for changes scheduled to impact the structure of the Family Readiness Support Assistant program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"The reduction plan is scheduled to take effect by fiscal year 2014, allowing JBLM one year to plan, implement and adjust from a current authorization of 47 to 25 FRSAs," said Mission Support Element Director at JBLM, Mike Fuller. "Despite impending budget cuts and 22 fewer positions, JBLM Army leadership is actively involved to ensure a successful restructuring and transition of the FRSA program."

FRSAs administratively maintain the continuity and stability of Family Readiness Groups as units undergo changes in volunteers and leadership by providing logistical support to commanders, rear-detachment commanders and volunteer FRG advisers.

The installation is not alone, as U.S. Army Forces Command decreased the overall number of FRSAs by 198 across the U.S. resulting from a Department of Defense strategy based on budgetary constraints of a troop draw down in Iraq and a template withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"FORSCOM is in a position to conduct a comprehensive review of the FRSA program," Fuller said. "As a result, one FRSA will be allocated for each 1,000 FORSCOM Soldiers assigned to an installation."

JBLM leaders and Army spouses feel it is necessary to maintain open lines of communication with everyone involved over the course of the restructuring initiative.

"As we transition and move forward it's important to be proactive and provide as much information as possible to Soldiers and Families," said Patti Brown, spouse of Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, I Corps commanding general. "Remaining completely transparent by keeping everyone informed is the only way to successfully accomplish this transition," Fuller said.

"As combat operations are scaled back, JBLM FORSCOM deployed troop numbers will drop from approximately 11,800 in 2012 to approximately 4,700 troops by 2013," Fuller said as he addressed spouses at the conference.

Part of solution to mitigating the loss of 22 FRSA authorizations will be a need to return to pre-Sept. 11 practices, Fuller said, emphasizing the greater need to depend on FRG volunteers to fill in for the FRSA losses. In lieu of the challenging road ahead, spouses believe they are ready to take on the additional responsibility of recruiting and educating volunteers while maintaining the FRSA mission.

"It is our responsibility to educate Soldiers and Families so they can make informed decisions about how these changes will impact their future," Brown said.

"We need to start training our volunteers now so that things can continue to run as smoothly as they do now," said Caroline Webster, spouse of currently deployed Col. Charles R. Webster Jr., 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division commander. "Armed with this information, allows us to plan and answer questions from our FRSAs and our Family members."

A hiring freeze on FRSAs has been implemented as part of the strategy to get to the required target of 25 by October 2013.

"We have a fairly high turnover rate amongst our FRSAs and as a result, we believe normal attrition will allow us to achieve the target," Fuller said.

All FORSCOM FRSAs resident on JBLM attended the town-hall-style conference and addressed ideas to focus on the road ahead.

Fuller said detailed planning is scheduled to continue with the 7th Infantry Division and brigade command teams as the implementation plan is refined.

"FRSAs have proven themselves as a vital enabler to the success of our combat operations and Army senior leaders are fully committed to ensuring our restructured program remains relevant and vibrant as we head towards 2014 and beyond," Fuller said.

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