National Guard Bureau strives to strengthen family communication 

10/1/2010 

Ohio Guard welcome home 
Andrea Boyd kisses her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Boyd, during a welcome home ceremony on Aug. 3 for Ohio National Guard soldiers returning from a 13-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  The National Guard held a Family Volunteer Workshop in which about 1,300 people attended and 1,400 more followed through Twitter.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau’s family programs told bloggers, "We have to change our communication strategy to those of our customers."

Alex Baird, speaking from the National Guard Family Volunteer Workshop in New Orleans used an example involving himself and his daughter to make the point.

"One day I went to the mall, I was trying to track down my daughter and I called her three times, left three voicemails. And I was becoming concerned and I pulled out my phone and I just sent her a text, I said: ‘Where are you,’ and it instantly came back: ‘I’m in such and such store.’"

Baird added, "We’re using social media throughout this workshop so that those who could not attend are able to stay connected, and they can stay connected through Twitter, through Facebook, and they’re writing other stuff down for me that I probably don’t even know how to pronounce."

He said there were about 1,300 attendees at the workshop and about half were volunteers.

In an AUSA NEWS check of the National Guard Twitter account when Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking, slightly more than 1,400 were following the address through that medium.

During his address, Mullen said he would work on eliminating the "yes/no box" on contacting families.

Baird told the bloggers, "I remember my father, who was a Marine, told me: ‘Always say no unless you have to say yes.’ And so what happens is, as people go through the processing line, they just start marking no on these checklists. And what would happen then is a family member would come back two months into a deployment and say: ‘You know, I haven’t heard a thing from my husband or my wife’s unit about the deployment, and I don’t understand why I’m not being contacted.’ And then the unit has to tell them: ‘Well, your spouse said they did not want you contacted. And so then we put the spouse in a bad position."

He said because the National Guard is community-based, its family programs often help families from other reserve components – 20,000 encounters with the Navy Reserve and 12,000 with the Marine Corps Reserve – and from active duty.

"What we try to do is augment their services to provide somebody local, because sometimes there’s a big difference between somebody who can come face to face with you and somebody who is, you know, halfway across the country."

Quoting Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, who spoke at the workshop, Baird said family programs should be joint.

"Sometimes it’s just getting over rice bowls, and I’m used to only working in my environment. We do find we work very well between Army, Army Guard, Army Reserve. We work well between Air Guard and Air Force."

Adding, "The key now is going to be how do we go across services? How do we go between, say, the Air National Guard and Army Reserve to make sure they’re connected?"