Family readiness training prepares leaders, volunteers for next deployment

April 23, 2022 (CAMP RIPLEY, Minn.) — The Minnesota National Guard’s Family Readiness program hosted an Annual Training, known as a FRAT, at Camp Ripley, April 23, 2022. 

“The purpose of the FRAT is to train commanders, their command teams, liaisons, and Soldier and Family Readiness Group volunteers on all aspects of establishing and maintaining a functional SFRG,” said Adam Vanderwal, who is one of the trainers at this year’s event. 

Vanderwal serves as a fulltime Soldier and Family Readiness Specialist, known as a SFRS, and a parttime Minnesota National Guard Soldier who drills with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division’s Division Artillery. As a SFRS, he can provide financial, military and community, legal, health insurance, youth, and crisis intervention resources to Soldiers and their family members. 

“Being an SFRS takes a lot of motivation, empathy, and hard work,” said Vanderwal. “But the outcome can be highly satisfying, assisting those in need.” 

During the conference, 43 attendees came ready to learn as well as another 64 more participating online. Throughout the day, they attended various breakout sessions taught by family readiness staff who work throughout the state. 

“SFRG involvement takes time and dedication, and your commitment does not go unnoticed,” said Ellyn Emde, the Lead SFRS for the state of Minnesota, during the opening remarks. “It is because of your dedication to service that our Soldiers and families thrive in Minnesota.” 

The attendees trained on program updates ranging from communication tools and best practices to managing funds, planning events and audits. 

The program is designed to broaden leaders’ perspectives and connect them to resources within the SFRG networks allowing participants to take what they have learned to support their unit’s, Soldiers, families, and community partners. 

“We learned about how we can incorporate resources for Soldiers and their families into things we already do,” said Army 1st Sgt. Cory Filsmyer, a member of Minnesota’s 134th Brigade Support Battalion. “Getting family members involved and supporting service members is important to our organization and the SFRS teams are a great resource to our Soldiers and command teams.” 

At the end of the conference, several volunteers were recognized for their volunteerism, hard work and dedication. Most notable were those who received a President’s Volunteer Service Award or a Minnesota state specific award. 

The President’s Volunteer Service Award is a civil award established by then President George W. Bush, to honor volunteers that give hundreds of hours per year helping others. The award has continued under each administration, honoring the volunteers who are using their time and talents to solve some of the toughest challenges facing the Soldiers and families they support. 

By the end of 2021 there were 214 volunteers who logged 14,690 hours in the state of Minnesota. The 2021 value for volunteer time is $28.54 per hour, which equates to a donated value of $419,252.60 worth of time and service. 

The Minnesota State Family Programs Office recognized the impact that Soldier and Family Readiness Groups have across the state. Several participants were awarded for categories such as rookie of the year, command family readiness representative of the year, volunteer of the year, and team of the year. 

“It is because of people like you that our military families are supported and feel connected,” said Heather Bergeron, the state family programs director for the Minnesota National Guard. “We hope you take the information you learn here today and build or reenergize successful Soldier and family readiness groups around the state.” 

Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh 

Minnesota National Guard