Defense Department officials today recognized the best in National Guard and reserve family programs saying such efforts are critical to combat readiness.
"If we lose the support of our families, if we lose the support of our employers, we will be put out of business," said Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant Secretary of Defense for reserve affairs. "The sustainment of these family programs isn't just a nicety. There is a direct connection in their success and our operational readiness and our ability to succeed in combat."
McCarthy presented each of the seven winners with an engraved plaque during a Pentagon ceremony, and heralded the efforts of today's military families.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr., president of the Military Officers Association of America accompanied McCarthy in presenting the awards.
"You are our heroes," Ryan told the attendants. "You've carried us on your shoulders. We know you are the strongest and most resilient families this nation has and we need for you to be the strongest and most resilient.
"You have stretched and strained in manners I can only imagine," Ryan continued. "Nothing is more important than your support."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is traveling and could not attend the ceremony, provided a statement of congratulations to the award recipients. "The National Guard and reserve is integral to everything the military does, and never more so than in the past decade."
Gates said in his statement that it is "absolutely critical" to mission readiness that troops know before they deploy that their families will be OK.
Air Force Col. Cory Lyman, director of individual and family support policy in reserve affairs, said the awards were created in 2000 to recognize those installations that accomplish the most in family readiness, while also achieving mission readiness. He recognized each of the recipients and highlighted their accomplishments:
-- The Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade at Camp Douglas, Wis., supported the largest National Guard deployment in Wisconsin history last year. The brigade maintains family morale at home with monthly programs throughout the deployment.
-- The Army Reserve's 108th Training Command in Charlotte, N.C., supported 12,000 soldiers through various phases of deployment, in part by creating its Community Connections Initiatives program to reach out to soldiers in the region to ensure support.
-- The Marine Corps Reserve's Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772 in Willow Grove, Pa., shares information on everything from child care to Tricare with quarterly all-hands briefings to ensure that no Marine is considered non-deployable due to family concerns.
-- The Navy Reserve's Navy Operational Support Center in Columbus, Ohio, partners with other organizations to provide a host of programs, including 35 major events, more than 400 funeral honors, and youth programs.
-- The Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, Minn., contacts each new member's family and tracks every family's ability to have contact with their deployed servicemember.
-- The Air Force Reserve's 482nd Fighter Wing in Homestead, Fla., doubled the number of families participating in its Yellow Ribbon Program for higher education, and partners with local businesses and the Red Cross to help financially pressed families.
-- The Coast Guard Reserve's Port Security Unit 311 in San Pedro, Calif., established an Internet-based information outreach program that includes a chat room for family support and the opportunity for deployed reservists to send videos of them reading bedtime stories for their children back home.
"We've been treated to a description of what are arguably the best of the best programs," McCarthy said, "but we all know there are many, many more out there. If we do nothing else, we must support them because they are the backbone of our organization."
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