Walking into the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) headquarters, the air-conditioning struggles to keep the outside summer air at bay. However, just past the main entrance, down the narrow hallway, there is warmth that radiates not from the temperature inside, but instead the warmth of a person who genuinely exhibits a caring attitude for people and especially military Families.
The room, adorned with pictures of Family events and military ceremonies, is the office of Silvestre A. Smith, the battalion’s Family readiness support assistant.
“The Soldiers of the 96th Civil Affairs deploy often and when not deployed, they are back preparing for the next mission,” said Smith. “When Soldiers deploy, life goes on for their Family members back at home. Cars breakdown, faucets start leaking, children get sick and bills still need to be paid. Spouses have to cope with the day-to-day activities and when problems arise, I try to find solutions for them.”
She should know.
“I have been a military wife for more than 20 years and I remember how I felt the first time my husband deployed,” said Smith. “We were in Germany, I did not have a driver’s license; in fact, I did not know how to drive a stick shift. I learned very quickly. Then I found other spouses in the same situation as me.”
From that experience, Smith started down a path of helping others. When somebody needed a ride to the commissary, she drove. When somebody needed a babysitter, she and her partner spouses found ways to support each other.
She started attending command briefings to discuss the progress of establishing a resource center. “Before I knew it, I was advocating for spouses and tackling issues we were facing. That just changed it all for me,” Smith said. “ I no longer worried about what I was going through; we were all in this together.”
Although Smith did not realize it then, she was learning the skills she would use in her current position as Family readiness support assistant.
The Family Readiness Support Assistant Program began in 2003, when a need to address Family readiness during times of rapid deployments became apparent.
“These battalion-level, Family readiness support assistants are as important after a deployment as they are prior to a deployment. Family readiness equates to readiness of the force itself,” said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the 36th Army Chief of Staff, and an advocate for Soldier and Family programs.
The Family readiness support assistants are a vital link between the battalion commander, the Families assigned to the unit and the community resources available to the Soldiers and their Families.
“My role here in the battalion as a support assistant is to find support links for the Family readiness groups,” said Smith. “I work directly with them as a conduit to find and assist with programs available.”
The Family readiness groups are a command-sponsored, volunteer organization structured to provide mutual support and assistance forming a network of communications between Family members, the chain of command, and community resources.
The groups encourage resiliency among the members by providing information, referral assistance and mutual support, and provides avenues of activities focusing on the well-being and esprit de corps within the battalion.
The Family readiness groups are usually spouses of Soldiers who are getting ready to deploy, currently deployed or those who have returned and are in the re-integration phase.
“The significance of a Family readiness group is that it allows deployed Soldiers to remain mission focused while their Families’ well-being is sustained,” Smith said. “The stress of deployments can affect the Family unit. I know how they feel. I have experienced it, so it is especially gratifying when the Families are looked after and problems are solved and fixed.”
Another one of Smith’s duties includes assisting with the Army’s Strong Bonds program.
Strong Bonds is a chaplain-led program designed to facilitate and build relationship resiliency. The Strong Bonds programs help single Soldiers, couples and Families thrive in the turbulence of the military environment.
Attendees voluntarily participate in a Strong Bonds offsite retreat designed to maximize relationship-training impact. The retreat provides an environment in which to address the effects of military lifestyle stresses.
“Soldiers and Families throughout the battalion are often in different phases of the deployment cycle. One company is deployed, another in reset and another is preparing to deploy,” said Capt. Joseph W. Salem, chaplain for the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion.”
This requires a flexible and intentional strategy to serve Soldiers and Families wherever they are. Strong Bonds is an important training program to that end. Collaboration between the unit ministry team and the FRSA is essential.”
Smith was recently named the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade’s Employee of the Quarter. Although modest in reference to her skills, her warmth radiates as she describes one of the things she feels is most important in her job.
“One of the most significant parts of my job is prevention,” said Smith. “The last thing we want is for the Soldier to deploy and something occurs that could have been prevented before the deployment. It can cause undue stress to the Family, cost money and affect a marriage. I feel especially gratified when problems find solutions,” she said.
“There are times when the work becomes frustrating” The military drains a lot out of us Family members. It takes from you whether you want to give it or not. So we want the Families to embrace it. When you embrace it as a Family, you realize what is out there and you can take advantage of what the military offers. It changes the game. It really makes you appreciate what it is that you have,” Smith explained.
“I always look for ways to do things better, and when a Soldier returns home, and the Family is all hugs and kisses, I know it is all worth it,” Smith said. “I strive to make the Soldier’s life just a little easier in these times.”
The 96th Civil Affairs Battalion organizes training, equips, and deploys forces in 26 countries to conduct civil affairs operations.
For more information about the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), go to Civil Affairs Recruiting at http://www.bragg.army.mil/sorb/CA.htm — Recruiting Soldiers from within the U.S. Army for Active Duty Service in Civil Affairs.