Aug. 8, 2005- Until now, the V.I. government's focus on protecting the territory from possible terrorist attacks has made it hard for Virgin Islanders to think about being affected by the war still being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for the families of approximately one hundred National Guard troops, the danger of suicide bombings and the rising death toll for U.S. soldiers is about to become reality.
Shipping out in early September, members of the 786 Quartermasters Water Purification Unit gathered with their families on Friday morning to engage in their first military activity for the Middle East war efforta briefing session designed to provide the soldiers and their loved ones with information on what to do before, during, and after deployment.
"During the next few weeks, I understand that most of you will be experiencing a series of feelings some days youll be up, other times, youll be downbut thats completely normal given what youre about to go through," Linda M. Todman, state family program director for the National Guard said. "But the most important thing for families in this position to remember is that you are going to have to be there for one another, [and] take care of each other with that, youll be able to get through this."
In her presentation, Todman also outlined a number of ways the troops and their families could learn to cope with the circumstances. "For the spouses of National Guardsmen, we encourage that you really take care of yourself while your loved one is awaystay healthy and happy, keep busy," Todman said. "If you have children, make sure they know that theyre loved be open and honest about your own fears and concerns, and they will respond to that."
Todman additionally recommended that families take part in a number of family program courses in facilities across the territory. Through these courses, troops have the opportunity to make more long-term plans to take care of any needs that may arise during the deployment period. "If youre expecting a new baby while youre away, for example, our family plans will enable you to take care of things like medical insurance, notarization of documents, or the appointment of legal guardians and custodians."
For those troops currently with children, Todman added that gifts for graduation, birthdays, and other special occasions should be bought ahead of time. "Its definitely possible that [troops] may be gone for over a year. Its important to plan ahead. Youre also encouraged to keep the lines of communication open when troops are away. Send care packages, write e-mails and lettersthe National Guard is able to help facilitate those things."
On the topic of financial matters, Todman and other presenters further emphasized that families work together to protect their affairs while soldiers are away. "Ive had soldiers come back home to find their whole life in ruins," one National Guard attorney said. "You have no idea what our troops are going to be seeing out there when they come back, their perception is going to be altered for a very long time maybe even forever. Therefore, its essential that families keep everything in order while our troops are away."
"Its important to be prepared for a shock," Todman added. "We recommend that families set up joint accounts, and keep at least two months' worth of payroll in there to keep you going. Sometimes, theres a delay in the Guard payroll system, and to avoid calamity in the event of an emergency, its necessary to have some cash set aside."
Other National Guard representatives at the briefing additionally gave soldiers and their families information on acquiring loans, dealing with legal matters during deployment and applying for life insurance and other benefits.
National Guard Public Relations Officer Sergeant Karen D. Williams also provided information on sessions with the Family Readiness Group, designed to help soldiers cope with separation.
"This is a great honor for our troops," Todman said. "We get to help protect our country, and it is an opportunity which will help further their careers in the National Guard Service."
Those present at Fridays event were also invited to attend a church service for troops on Sunday at St. Thomas Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Tutu. "Deployments are a heart-wrenching experience for family members as they prepare for the departure of their loved ones thats why were offering this service. To have a prayer of thanksgiving for our troops," Williams said.
Taking a turn from the reality of deployment explored in Fridays briefing, Sundays service immediately began, and ended, with singinga vibrant medley of songs that seemed to uplift the spirits of many family members in attendance.
Rising from their seats and clapping along to all of the hymns, the congregation simultaneously prayed for the protection of their loved onesa safe trip to the Middle East, a quiet experience on the front, and a safe delivery home.
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