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Struggling through multiple deployments

Dealing with a loved one’s deployment can be difficult. But for Marine families based thousands of miles from home, the challenges might seem even more daunting if not for an active family support network in place to help them.

In Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, home to more than 11,000 Marines and sailors and their families, the Marine Corps Family Team Building program plays a critical role in helping families through multiple deployments.

Historically a volunteer-based effort, the program now benefits from a recent Headquarters Marine Corps decision to create permanent, paid positions at every Marine base to ensure consistent, continuous family support programs throughout the Corps, explained Xiomara Bowes, the program’s director.

The Marine Corps dedicated other expanded resources to the program, as well, introducing broader family support efforts. “We have supplies; we have equipment; we have office spaces; we have facilities,” as well as additional child care and extended-hour training programs, Bowes said.

Now, she said, the program can provide additional services and training, not only to spouses, but also to children of deployed Marines and sailors, as well as their parents and extended families. “It opens it up for more training opportunities, more learning opportunities to just get through the challenging lifestyle,” she said.

But even with this seven-person paid staff, Bowes said the network couldn’t serve the families of about 1,700 currently deployed Marines without a vast volunteer network. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force’s 2nd Battalion is deployed now, and the 1st Battalion is preparing to deploy later this year.

“We’re busy when it comes to deployments, especially with the times we are in,” Bowes said. “There’s simply no way we could provide the support families need by ourselves, without the commitment of our volunteers.”

Bowes described the far-reaching efforts she said are particularly important here, because there’s no way to hop into the family car and drive home, and airline tickets home cost hundreds of dollars.

“There’s a sense of isolation for many of them,” said Bowes, a Navy wife herself who understands the challenges deployments bring. “When you’re here in Hawaii and your family is Montana, it’s not like you can get on a plane and go to Montana.”

The isolation can be particularly difficult for younger spouses experiencing their first deployment, she said. The average Marine here is 19 to 20 years old, and about 25 percent of the base population is married.

Even spouses able to pick up and fly home during the deployment can run into a quandary, explained Cheryl Roy, the base’s readiness and deployment support trainer and wife of a 30-year Marine who recently retired. If they leave their base housing for more than 90 days, they’re required to give it up to the next person in line for housing and to get back on the waiting list when they return.

Their medical benefits can transfer with them, but change because the family is moving from a base outside the continental United States to one within CONUS. And if they have pets, they have to consider the quarantine requirements on their return to Hawaii, Roy said. “It’s not an easy move; even if they decide to do that, it has challenges, as well,” Bowes said.

These factors, she said, make a solid family support network especially important.

Spouses often seek out the Family Team Building staff to help them deal with a particular problems, but get something far more important, Roy said. “I think what they’re looking for and what we’re trying to give them are possibly two different things,” she said, “because they come looking for services, and we want to teach them how to take care of themselves. And if you look at each one of our programs, you’ll see that the commonality is in teaching them and educating them in different ways to do just that.”

Training programs are offered on base and online, and they run the gamut from courses that promote personal development such as communication skills and financial awareness to those that develop career skills.

“Our focus is on empowering them. We’re building resiliency,” Bowes said.

“It’s always going to be up and down. It’s just the nature of being in a military family. There are constant changes to our lifestyle,” she said. “And so because of that, what we want to build is resiliency so they can accept change, transition from one thing to the next, and never skip a beat. We want to help build resiliency so they can get through those challenges.

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