Speaker emphasizes readiness, assistance for military families

The Williamsport/Lycoming County Council of Republican Women held its monthly luncheon at the Genetti Hotel Monday, with a guest speaker who addressed the importance of keeping families with deployed service members prepared for what that absence means.

“We need to help families understand how to carry out everyday activities that their family member usually take care of, from unstopping a sink to changing a tire to paying bills,” said Annie Ostrum, senior family readiness support assistant with the Military Personnel Services Corp.

She works with the Williamsport National Guard Armory.

Ostrum and her husband, Scott, a 32-year veteran of the armed forces, work in the eight-county Region 2 of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Family Readiness Group, an organization made up of family members, volunteers, soldiers and civilian employees associated with a particular unit.

The groups, under the responsibility of the unit’s commanding officer, coordinate information access and distribution – on topics ranging from family preparation for a deployment to accessing social services when the service member returns – offer support groups and committees, and maintain networks of programs and contact persons.

The goals of the group can vary greatly, depending on whether the unit is in pre- or post-deployment or in a training period at a home station, but the focus remains the same: to provide firm support to soldiers and their families before, during and after a deployment.

“We don’t want people having nowhere to turn when they need things and a family member is gone,” Annie said. “We don’t want anyone or anything falling through the cracks.”

It’s a new initiative of the Department of Defense, one that assigns a full-time, paid staff person to each unit in the National Guard and allows people like Ostrum to make a career out of helping military families, which she undertook at a volunteer level for more than 20 years.

“She’s very passionate about what she does,” said Dilonna Coran, president of the council, who invited the Ostrums to the luncheon.

Ostrum’s passion is due in large part to her background as part of a military family. Until Scott’s retirement from the military in 2005, there were three active duty members in the household: Scott and their two oldest sons. At one point in 2002, all three were deployed at the same time.

That passion also extends to the Ostrum’s willingness to be available to help soldiers and their families. Annie said she has gotten phone calls at all hours of the night, if a furnace stops working or the electricity goes out, and she immediately reaches out to find local services that are available and act as a liason between the service and the family.

“We reach out to community connections to solve certain problems (for them),” she said. “Some social services through the military are supported, but some they’re not eligible for.”

Scott said the veterans in the Williamsport area have well-staffed and successful groups and programs to take advantage of, but some of them don’t because of pride – or because of lack of knowledge about what is available, something that, by the very nature of the readiness and assistance groups, they strive to change.

As a wife and mother from a military family, Annie knows the importance of that knowledge as well, and of preparing to be without a family member for many months at a time.

“We’ve had to show family members how to do everything from pay bills to change a lightbulb,” she said. “They never did that before. Their husbands did that. Their soldiers did that.”