FRG: family readiness group
What the FRG is: an organization made up of mostly civilian volunteers who do their best to provide military families with support, resources (phone numbers and contacts to help you find baby-sitters, doctors, friends, banks, and councilors), and encouragement to help them be strong, independent, and successful military families.
What the FRG is not: babysitters, loan sharks, crisis counselors, movers, taxis, dating services, spies, and tattle-tails.
I just signed off on being FRG leader for a headquarters and headquarters company for a parachute infantry regiment; I was leader for over a year and a half. I enjoyed my time as FRG leader and I learned so much about the Army, human nature, and myself along the way.
If you’ve ever had experience with an FRG, I hope it was a good experience. Most of the time, however, I hear things like, “I hate FRG. They’re just a bunch of drama queens and I don’t do drama.” I know that people say things like that because 1)I used to say that same thing and 2) people say that to me all the time. This post is for anyone who’s ever wondered what the heck is wrong with their FRG or FRG Leader. It’s also for other FRG leaders who know exactly what I’m talking about…but maybe you’ve just never said it out loud…
I am a human being.
I will admit to forgetting to respond to eMails and sometimes being a grouch at meetings. I have three kids; anyone with kids (or access to the human experience) can tell you that there are days that just stink and your brain behaves more like a bowl of brussels sprouts than an organ capable of calculating molecular densities. Days when you don’t want to brush your teeth, much less haul kids, brochures, and snacks to a meeting. I was not grouchy because I didn’t care about your family or because you insisted on asking the same question at every single meeting. I was grouchy because my three year old destroyed my 11 year-old’s home work, causing WWIII ten minutes before I had to head out the door. Or I was grouchy because I couldn’t get a straight answer from Command to answer the question that I knew you were going to ask because you ask it at every single meeting. Or I was grouchy because I was on my period. All I wanted was for somebody…anybody…to say during the meeting was this, “Thanks for having this meeting. I learned something.” or “Thanks for the snacks.” or “You look like crap. Can I carry something for you while you drag your three kids back to the car?”
Very often I didn’t say the right thing in meetings. In fact, very often I said the exact opposite of the right thing. You know what? I still don’t have a degree in public speaking. All I had was a desire to help you to be the strong HouseHold 6 that you need to be.
I have no security clearance.
This means that I never had access to anything that I had to keep secret. I never had information and hid it from you. When I told you that I didn’t know when your soldier was coming home, or when the next deployment was, or even whether or not there will be child care at the ball, that means I really didn’t know. I am still not married to the company commander and sometimes he just wouldn’t give me an answer.
My Soldier Deployed, too.
Just as you were missing your soldier, I was missing mine. My kids were missing their dad and, just like you, I was having to pick up their little pieces. I can understand and completely sympathize with all of your deepest, darkest fears. I was one of you.
I like you but I love your soldier.
I love the Army. I love soldiers. I want soldiers to succeed and I believe in their mission. To that end, I agreed to help their families find resources to make them strong and independent. What this means: when you call me to tell me that you are having a fight with your soldier because he has to go out to the field again, I will tell you that you knew what you were marrying when you married a soldier and that he is doing his job and that the only reason he gets a paycheck, housing, and medical insurance is because he has to behave like a soldier by going to the field and off to war.
This feeling can be equated to the feeling you may have had for your little brother’s girlfriend: you are nice to her because 1) she is a human being and 2) she’s your brother’s girlfriend. Eventually, you may grow to like her in her own right…but your allegiance is always to your little brother. Right or wrong, the same is true for me: my end goal is to help you and your family so that the soldier can do his job. …which in case you forgot, his job is doing soldier stuff.
I have passed messages along to Command like this, “So and So’s wife is upset about this weekend’s FTX because she is scheduled to deliver a baby on Saturday. Any chance PVT So and So can get a break so that his wife can bring a child into the world?” I have never passed along a message to Command like this, “So and So’s wife is upset about this weekend’s FTX because she’s 19 and feels that she loves her husband more than anyone has ever loved their husband in the history of husbands and she just can’t bear to be apart from him.”
FRG was fun. 🙂
I laughed during meetings, at the park, around the company and battalion, and wherever we had a chance to get together. I got to hug you and your kids. We raised money together (seriously, if I ever have to cook another hot-dog I may scream.) and we played together. My favorite were the WelcomeHome! sign making parties, but I cherish the SeeYouLater, Dad! parties, too. We had some good times together and I am happier for the memory of those times.
I have, very often, put your family’s needs before my own family’s needs.
This means that I have taken your phone call and patiently walked you through registration in the vFRG system while I was supposed to be helping my daughter with her homework. I have soothed your hurt feelings when the commander’s wife didn’t remember your name while at my son’s Cub Scout meeting. I have answered your deployment questions while visiting my own family 2000 miles away from post. I have made my kids attend, literally, days’ worth of meetings when they could be out playing with their friends. My house has needed cleaning, dinner needed making, laundry needed folding, and I needed a bath, but instead, I was helping you work through registering your kids in CYSS or visiting you in the hospital.
I did these things because I wanted to. I did them because I cared. I tell you all this so that you will forgive me if I didn’t remember to call you on your birthday.
Sometimes you suck.
…like when you show up at meetings with hickeys on your neck while your husband is deployed. Or when you make no secret of your infidelity while your husband is deployed and then you expect me to “take your side” when he comes home. Or when you call me at midnight-thirty to tell me your dog escaped. Or when you write a “Dear John” letter to your spouse while he’s downrange and then you want me to get Rear-D to help you move your stuff. Or you spend your grocery money on a new tattoo and then forget that you also have a kid to feed.
Yep. You suck when you do that.
FRG depends on LOTS of volunteers.
So if you’re upset that your FRG is sub-standard, perhaps you should join (or shut up) and make it better.
Don’t start none, won’t be none.
I had zero drama in my FRG. My FRG leader friends had zero drama in their FRG’s. Why? Because we didn’t gossip, didn’t judge anyone based on their soldier’s rank, and put up with no crap. I’m very proud to say that there was no drama while I was FRG leader. If someone confided in me, it stayed with me. I treated everyone equally and tried to ensure that all the volunteers did, too. I never lied to my families just to make them happy and I did my best to make Command see the perspective of the families.
There is no such thing as Normal.
No normal families. No normal soldiers. No normal…anything. I have met amazing folks during the course of my FRG leadership. There’s the mother who home-schools 7 kids and still volunteers her time. The soldier who’s deployed 6 times and still has a heart for serving. The GoldStar Mother. The kids who get good grades and play sports and have a parent in harm’s way for other people’s way of life. There is no normal. There are only people doing People Things as best they can. Some cope better than others, but I’ve learned that even the 18 year old spouse who doesn’t know NCOIC from a five-star has a story to tell. The only reason I was granted the honor of hearing their stories was because I was an FRG leader.
I had the BEST volunteers.
My key-callers, treasurers, co-leader, and other volunteers were diamonds! They gave their time to call you and check on you, they loved you when you were unlovable, and they stuck up for you. Please, I beg you, be nice to your key-caller. She probably has kids, a job, and a novel she’s writing and she still called you. Love her. I do. I will go down swinging for my volunteers and I will, until the day I die, insist that any Good Thing that came from my FRG came as a result of My Girls.
I miss you.
I’m not FRG leader anymore, but I still worry about your family. I worry that Little Timmy won’t get his EFMP packet through in time. I worry that your redeployed soldier hasn’t gone to the TBI clinic. I worry that you are still battling anorexia. I think about your grandmother and how she provides your child-care and what if she falls down again? I see you around the battalion and at StarBucks and I hug you because I am genuinely glad to see you and want to know how your IVF is going. I am reminded of you at soccer games and the commissary and Target and I hope that you are still doing an amazing job of balancing all that you do.
…and I worry that you are angry with me and will forever say, “I hate FRG.” because of something I did or didn’t do.
So there you go. Some confessions of a reforming FRG Leader. I apologize for all of my shortcomings and failures; it was an honor to know you and your family. Folks on The Outside will never know the burden you carry as a military family…but I do. I salute you for your strength.
Now go forth and be nice to your FRG leader. She might be having cramps.
(A little background: my husband and I have been married for 12 years and he joined the Army while still in high school. He was enlisted, then commissioned after some more schooling. He’s held company command, deployed, and brought home enough sand to house a SpiceWorm. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom; I also raise money for Fisher-House through marathon running, I take pictures (not enough to be called a photographer, but I’m working on it). I used to be really, really down on FRG’s, but only because the first one I had contact with was so crumby. I am no longer FRG leader; I am currently serving as secretary and general volunteer. I’m pretty nervous about hitting the “publish” button right now. Hell hath no fury like an angry Army spouse on the internet…)