About 300 soldiers from six Wyoming Army National Guard units are set to deploy throughout next year and efforts are already underway to ensure soldiers, their families and their employers have the support they need before, during and after mobilization.
It’s been almost a decade since Wyoming sent about 700 soldiers overseas. The brigade-sized element was augmented by guardsmen from five other states, most of whom performed non-routine jobs such as convoy support into Iraq, or mayor cell duties on the various military bases in Kuwait.
According to Lt. Col. Charles Thompson, the state’s mobilization readiness officer, the plan, so far, is for all the units to deploy to the Central Command area of responsibility.
“That could be Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan or United Arab Emirates,” said Thompson. “The units are set to perform their standard missions.”
The Wyoming Military Department’s Service Member, Family, Employer, Readiness Support Team, or S-FERST, offers 14 programs to Guard members and those who support them and has been ramping up for this cycle of deployments since February.
“It’s like a buffet of services you can pick and choose from,” said S-FERST Director Bill Breckenridge. “Some will never use any of them, but some will use them all.”
Among the menu items are personal financial counselors, psychological services, employer support, substance abuse counseling and a child and youth program, to name a few.
In addition to the main offices in Cheyenne, S-FERST has five regional Family Assistance Centers around the state that provide a link for families, service members and veterans, in or near their communities.
“Most of our soldiers are dispersed around the state,” Breckenridge said. “A lot of the aviators are in the southeast area, but the battalions are all over.”
Thompson said the soldiers from the units set to head out the door do cover a lot of Wyoming’s open spaces.
“The 2-300 minus, is the largest group. They are primarily out of Casper, Gillette and Lander,” Thompson said. “We have volunteers who are reclassifying to fill some vacancies also, so it will be pretty spread out.”
As operations have evolved for the WyARNG over the last decade, so have S-FERST services and procedures. According to Breckenridge, the last large scale deployment effort, and several smaller ones since, provided good lessons for him and his staff.
Most important, he said, is getting involved at Soldier Readiness Processing, or the annual administrative and medical drill all Army Guardsmen are required to attend, whether deploying or not.
“Being there allows us to update the Family Intake Sheets and to interact with the soldiers a year out,” Breckenridge said. “We’re mindful that the definition of family has changed over the years and we have more blended families and single parent families. Sometimes it will be the soldier’s mom or dad or another service member taking care of a child.”
State Family Assistance Coordinator Emily Study said getting the SRP data early in the mobilization process is important for a number of reasons.
“We want to be able to contact the families or the primary caregivers at least 90 days out and to ensure we have the best way to contact them. Some prefer email or text, and so we can get that information, and start communicating with them at 90, 60 days out and not be scrambling at the last minute,” Study said.
Soldiers need to be focused on the mission while deployed, and having things in order at home is crucial to that end. That includes knowing their job is secure. Employers may have concerns too, and S-FERST and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve are there to support them as well.
“During that 2009 deployment, we had six county sheriffs from one department deploy,” Breckenridge said. “You can’t just put out a help wanted ad for something like that. It was key that ESGR and the adjutant general had dialog well in advance and we were able to arrange for getting help from other law enforcement agencies to fill in. There is a lot more advance training now too, but we haven’t had any trouble yet.”
The assistant adjutant general plans to unveil further employer support strategies next month.