Earlier this month, Cargill Kitchen Solutions coordinated a “Feast for the Famlies,” a Thanksgiving-style feast to benefit the families of the deployed Minnesota National Guard’s 257th Military Police Company.
Andrea McBrady and Jenna Kulberg, family readiness group (FRG) coordinators for the Monticello-based 257th said events such as the Cargill dinner are essential for families during challenging times like deployment. FRG coordinator responsibilities include ensuring family members have someone just a phone call away.
McBrady’s husband, SSG Nicholas Stai, has been in the military for 14 years, and works full time out of the Monticello National Guard location. The company’s recent deployment to Afghanistan is his second; he also deployed to Iraq in 2003. The couple has four children and is grateful for the support of family, friends, and the community of Monticello during the holiday season. Kulberg’s husband, Jesse, has been in the National Guard for almost eight years. This is his first deployment. The Kulberg’s have two preschool age children. “I am incredibly thankful for all the support we have seen from the Monticello community,” Kulberg said in an email.
According to McBrady and Kulberg, support events bring families together with others who truly know what they are experiencing.
Such events are also necessary during non-deployment times as they strengthen and create relationships among family members and help foster that sense of family among all whether in the U.S. Army or a family member.
McBrady and Kulberg, said it’s essential to the cohesion of the military unit that they have the support and tools that they need, especially during deployment.
Families need to support each other, and events like the one Cargill hosted are a great way of doing that, McBrady and Kulberg said. It makes life easier on soldiers if they know their families are taken care of here at home.
McBrady encourages people to go out of their way to help family members or organizations like the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. Military families are usually not very good at asking for help, she said.
“It is a path that we have chosen to walk, and, for our own individual reasons, reaching out and asking for help is sometimes difficult and overwhelming to families,” she said.
“It is a wonderful feeling when the community reaches out to us as Cargill did to put on this event, and is more appreciated than we can ever really express.
Contact from overseas is very important to families, McBrady said.
“There are varying degrees of how often contact is happening. There is also a significant time difference that can interfere with communication that families have to work around,” she said.
The Internet and social media have improved contact significantly, and is very helpful to families and to soldiers, but frequent letters and care packages are sent out overseas, she said.
“The way communication looks between families is different for everyone, there is no best practice, just what works best for each family,” she said.
According to McBrady, at home, the best way for service families to pass the time is to stay busy. “Events like Feast for the Families gave all of us something to look forward to and keep us busy for a whole day,” she said.
“Deployments are hard; it is not something that most can say they can fully understand. Having events to bring us together and stay busy uplift our spirits and keep us going.”
As far as the stress relief, McBrady and Kulberg, both said there is no cure-all. Every bit helps, but the stress is always there.
“We both have young children and struggle on a daily basis to accommodate for being Mommy and Daddy, along with working and all of the day to day things that go along with being the only parent. It is a huge task to undertake, especially when you throw emotions into the mix,” McBrady and Kulberg said. Many of the soldiers in the 257th are young, McBrady said.
“We have had a great deal of involvement from parents,” she added. “No matter if you are spouse of the solider or parent of a solider, there are stresses and feelings you experience daily. Just like your average person will not know what it is like to be a soldier, neither does the average person know what it is like to love a soldier.”
McBrady said the combination of pride, fear, exhaustion, and love is unique to the family members, especially during a deployment.
“Being together with people who know what you are experiencing is a great way to offset some of that stress,” she said. “It is also good for the kids to be around other kids who are in the same situation.
“No one asks them where their dad is, or comments on the deployment situation. It just is what it is, and they can be normal kids for a while,” she said.