For many far-flung reserve component units, keeping the unit and military families connected can be a challenge.
So it was for the Army National Guard's 1742nd Transportation Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — which has some families living in other states.
The key for that unit was the efforts of its commander, Capt. Tyler Gerlach, and its family readiness group leader, Christine Krogman, to develop strong lines of communication.
They succeeded so well that the unit was among seven reserve component units recognized for their family readiness programs by the Defense Department.
After Gerlach took command, he and Krogman didn't wait until the unit deployed overseas to ramp up family readiness. For seven months prior, they held family readiness group meetings — and included the soldiers.
"That helped the families' comfort level," Gerlach said.
When the unit deployed to Afghanistan for most of 2014, family members "carried on the unit identity," Gerlach said. For example, they wore T-shirts with the message that the families were part of the 1742nd Transportation Company and soldiering on in their soldiers' absence.
"That was a huge contribution to unit pride," he said.
Gerlach remained accessible during the deployment, answering any of Krogman's questions within at least eight hours. He set up a "home wall" so unit members could see the families' activities back home, including a "thank you" composed of tracings of children's hands.
"It wasn't just family members connecting," Krogman said. "The unit did a monthly newsletter to send back home. "
The advantages of such bonds between units and families is evident in the other reserve component units honored by DoD.
"It's a team effort," said Bea Ramos, family readiness officer of the Marine Corps Reserve's 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Baltimore. "This program can't expand or even exist without the commander's vision and their support to make sure that Marines understand that this is part of the mission — making sure families are taken care of."
"We go beyond the program requirements," Ramos said. "We customize our outreach based on our families' needs."
Lt. Col. Lance Windel, 4th CEB commander, credited Ramos for knowing that resources to help Marine families exist far beyond the Corps, in private-sector agencies, and for creating her own "playbook" of innovative ways to help.
Ramos exemplifies the Corps' philosophy of "one mind, many weapons ... that's how she's attacked family readiness."
This year's other honorees:
*Army Reserve: 75th Legal Operations Detachment, Mountain View, California, Col. Dave Wallace.
*Navy Reserve: Navy Operational Support Center Charleston, North Charleston, South Carolina, Cmdr. Shaun Murphy.
*Air National Guard: 157th Air Refueling Wing, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, Col. Shawn Burrus.
*Air Force Reserve: 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis, Lt. Col. Susan Maki.
*Coast Guard Reserve: Port Security Unit 312, San Francisco, Cmdr. Tiffany Danko.
These units place a priority on sharing information that all families crave — and ensuring they have the resources they need to make the most of life in the military.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.