• Waiting families get together as ‘lunch bunch’

  • "Waiting Spouses" gather for the "Lunch Bunch."

    • email print
  • Jennifer Walleman | Staff Writer
    Paulesa John had just sat down to eat her lunch with a group of other military spouses at the Frontier Conference Center Solarium Buffet Jan. 19 when her husband, Maj. Michael John, an individual augmentee deployed to Afghanistan, called her via FaceTime.
    “I made him say hi to everybody,” John said.
    John was one of several family members of deployed soldiers who have regularly attended the Army Community Service’s “Waiting Families Lunch Bunch.”
    The no-host lunch, initiated by ACS’s Mobilization, Deployment and Stability Support Operations program, has been offered monthly since September for the families of soldiers deployed with units or on unaccompanied tours, and those whose soldiers have transferred to another military installation and they have chosen to stay at Fort Leavenworth.
    The lunches, also attended by ACS staff, chaplains and commanders of units with deployed soldiers at Fort Leavenworth, provide a social gathering and networking opportunity for families. Attendees must pay for their lunches, but other ACS events for waiting families, such as the quarterly training offered during evenings and weekends, are free to attend and offer free child care through Child, Youth and School Services. The trainings are on various topics like resiliency and the deployment cycle.
    Michelle McLaughlin, MD&SSO program manager since February, said the lunches were something that are a natural fit for ACS. There are currently 185 deployed individual augmentees out of Fort Leavenworth and 124 families. The lunches are provided to families of all components — active duty, National Guard and Reserve.
    McLaughlin said there’s no commitment to the lunches.
    “The beauty of it is that nobody feels the obligation to come,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of times with different programs it’s like if I join this I have to go every single month. It’s really casual. If people can attend that’s fine, if not that’s fine too.”
    McLaughlin said that there have been spouses who have attended the lunches and made connections that have become a support outside of the meetings.
    “We’ve had so many people connecting and networking that would have never met if it had not been for this lunch bunch, and some of them even keep in communication when we are not meeting they have e-mailed and conversed with each other so it has provided that networking aspect for them so it has been very great,” McLaughlin said.
    For example, a spouse attended a past lunch who was new to the Reserves when her husband deployed.
    “Brand new to the Reserves and her husband deployed, and we just happened to have someone who came to that lunch with a friend who was also a very seasoned Reservist spouse so they were able to connect,” McLaughlin said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Lt. Col. Michael Johnson, commander of Special Troops Battalion, is a strong supporter of the waiting families program.
    The STB has around 50 people deployed right now, many of them individual augmentees.
    “We are a very disparate organization,” Johnson said. “I’ve got folks in lots of different places doing lots of different things. It’s not like a typical military unit where the whole unit goes. ... It’s a very different feel, so it’s really important for me to make sure they’ve got a place where they can know other folks going through a similar experience as they are.”
    Johnson has offered to take individual augmentee families with no unit at Fort Leavenworth under his wing.
    “A lot of folks will leave their families at Fort Leavenworth,” Johnson said. “Soldiers go to Korea, Saudi Arabia, so dependent-restricted tours, and it’s a permanent change of station so they technically don’t fall under anyone’s command at Fort Leavenworth, but I’ve offered for anyone in that situation if they have anything, to please call me,” Johnson said. “I will help you find the resources. One of the things most folks don’t know is that if your soldier is deployed and you are here and live in on-post housing, the on-post housing will mow your lawn and plow your driveway in the winter while your spouse is gone.”
    Cathy Ward’s husband, Maj. Daniel Ward, has been deployed to South Korea as an individual augmentee since November. She attended the waiting lunch for the second time Jan. 19.
    “When they are with a unit there’s more information given to you,” Ward said. “Not that I would bother his old commander, but his old commander did say if I needed anything he would be there.
    “Just being able to talk to other people who are going through the same thing as you and knowing that there’s support by the chaplains and others,” Ward said, was comforting.
    The hardest part of separation, she said, was not having her husband there, especially when things go wrong.
    “For some reason, things always have to break down when they are gone,” Ward said.
    Becky Jacobs, spouse of the 40th Military Police Detention Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Travis Jacobs, said she remembers how hard it was caring for two small children when her husband was deployed and so sees value in supporting programs for families.
    “The biggest thing was just to know that you did have support such as this (lunch), people that you can contact and people who were going through the same thing you were going through,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s awesome that they put this together, especially because there’s a couple of true battalions here so they do have companies that rotate and deploy, and I think a lot of people need to know that there are still soldiers overseas. I think a lot of people sometimes forget with people coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan that we still do have people all over the world that we need to support and their families back home.”
    Page 3 of 3 - John stayed at Fort Leavenworth to provide some stability to her family made up of two college-age children and two elementary-aged children when her husband transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, and subsequently deployed to Afghanistan.
    “Even though he didn’t deploy out of here, it’s nice to still have this program set in place,” John said. “I think it’s nice to be among others whose spouses are away, too.”
    The next Waiting Families lunch is at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 2 at the FCC. A table is reserved in the Solarium. Children are welcome at lunch with their meal purchased by the parent or they can be dropped off at the Child Development Center for hourly care.
    A Waiting Families Valentine’s potluck and bingo event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Resiliency Center. To RSVP, call 684-2820 or e-mail michelle.r.mclaughlin2.civ@mail.mil. To sign up for the potluck, visit: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0448a5a823ab9-waiting. Free child care is provided. Slots open Jan. 15. Children must by registered with CYSS and call CYSS to enroll for the event before 5 p.m. Feb. 5. Slots are limited.
  • Comment or view comments