FORT BENNING, Ga. - Basic training Soldiers are not the only ones creating bonds of camaraderie, their families are too, thanks to an effort by a small family readiness group to host end-of-cycle "meet and greets."
The casual event brings together families of the graduating Soldiers and cadre of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 192nd Infantry Brigade, including the commander, first sergeant and drill sergeants.
What originally started out as a small, informal dinner between FRG spouses and a handful of Facebook families has expanded to a large gathering for hundreds of family members of basic trainees in town for their Soldiers' graduation, said Rhonda Young, wife of company commander Capt. John Young.
"The family members seem to get the most joy from meeting the (cadre) who've been training their Soldiers on a daily basis," Young said.
Young and Carrie Rider, wife of the company's senior enlisted, 1st Sgt. Erik Rider, lead the eight-member FRG, which organizes the event.
The meet and greet is held at a local restaurant the night before family day.
The most recent one was held Nov. 21 at CiCi's Pizza in North Columbus, which offered $5 adult buffets and military discounts to the families. The event brought together nearly 150 people.
"The families love it," Young said. "It gives families who've been a part of our Facebook discussions a chance to meet not only the FRG spouses who have been answering their questions the last nine weeks, but to meet the other families they've been corresponding with."
The meet and greets were originally started by two drill sergeant's wives, Melinda Dobrovolny and Amanda Favreau, said Young, who's been with the company since July.
Young said not long after she came on board the group saw the potential in expanding the event. The FRG reached out to hundreds of families via their Facebook page and the response has been "more positive than we ever imagined."
"I don't think any of us were prepared for how emotionally significant this would be for the families," she said.
Tia Johnson traveled from Memphis, Tenn., to attend last month's meet and greet, two days before her husband's graduation.
"It's been tough, this is the longest we've been apart since we got married two years ago," said Johnson, wife of Spc. David Johnson.
A self-proclaimed "Navy brat," Tia said she joined the company's Facebook page in August shortly after David reported to Fort Benning.
Tia attended the meet and greet and said it was "such a blessing to meet these amazing women."
"They answered all our questions and had real advice. It was great to know when he was going to call, you just never know when your phone is going to ring and it's great to be prepared," she said.
Young said the FRG plans to make the meet and greets part of the routine at E Company, with the families of each graduating class having the opportunity to attend.
A small family readiness group is having a big impact on Fort Benning kids this holiday. The eight-member FRG for E Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, asked families planning to attend the company’s basic training graduation Tuesday to bring toy donations for Santa’s Castle, the nonprofit charity that provides toys to needy Fort Benning families during the holiday season. The response was “tremendous,” said FRG leader Rhonda Young, wife of the company’s commander, Capt. John Young.
Toys were still rolling in at press time, but Young said she predicted there were at least 500 donated toys, including a carload from a couple that wished to remain anonymous. Families started delivering the toys at the company’s “meet and greet” Sunday night hosted at CiCi’s Pizza in Columbus. The casual event brings together families of the graduating Soldiers and cadre of E Company, including the commander, first sergeant and drill sergeants.
“The families are dying to be connected … so we gave them a call to action,” said Dana Haines, who came up with the idea early this month to use the company’s Facebook page to reach out to families and ask them to donate toys. “I think it really pulled at their heartstrings because they knew the toys would go to Fort Benning children.”
Che Russell brought three bags of toys, she said, because “it made us feel like we were helping.”
Russell, a former Navy nurse, was in town for son-in-law Spc. David Johnson’s graduation. Since many of the graduating Soldiers’ spouses are new to Army life, Russell said both E Company’s Facebook page and toy drive have introduced them early on to how FRGs work and benefit the families.
“I know how much they helped me when my husband was in Iraq. These families can see what a difference it makes,” she said. The FRG leader said the toys will be given to Santa’s Castle the week after Thanksgiving as a large donation on behalf of the entire graduating class.
Santa’s Castle has been serving Fort Benning since 1986 and provides kids with approximately $125 worth of toys. The charity supports approximately 450 families and 1,000 children each year, according to charity officials. Kids receive three toys, stocking stuffers, books, a stuffed animal and a game for the family.
For more information, to volunteer or to make a donation, call 706-685-4422.
Santa’s Castle has moved!
The charity is now located inside Building 262 in the “warehouse district” off Edwards Street.
Read more: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2010/11/23/1357077/toy-drive-brings-families-together.html#ixzz17ieaWGIB