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MCCS launches 'Operation Support'

By Sgt. David A. Bryant | | February 20, 2003

Mass deployments of Marines and sailors here have caused some noticeable changes. Fewer men and women in uniform can be seen walking to every area of the station and the lack of jet engines constantly being fired leaves behind a unique quietness.

Another noticeable change is the hours of operation for certain Marine Corps Community Services activities like the exchange, fitness center and the consolidated club.

Although family members may see some services reduced, it is important to realize that other areas within MCCS are reaching out to families with new programs and activities, said Lt. Col. Stanley Salamon, director of MCCS Personal Services and Marine Corps Family Team Building.

This is why MCCS is launching "Operation Support" to ensure family members are well taken care of, he said.

"There are two sides to MCCS," Salamon said. "One side, such as the exchange and the clubs, depend entirely on revenue to stay in business. The side of MCCS dealing with family services is primarily funded by Headquarters Marine Corps, and those funds can only be used for the program which the funds are designated. Not only does this keep our doors open, but I think this is Headquarters Marine Corps' way of ensuring that Marine families are well taken care of, especially when the Marine is away."

Even with hours cut back, the retail side of MCCS that depends on revenue is still operating "in the red," which means they are losing money just by being open, he said. Despite this, family members need not be concerned about the level of services in critical areas such as child care, financial counseling and family counseling support.

Staff members of all personal services and MCFTB are working to accommodate the increased need, with some areas, such as the Counseling Support Branch, going so far as to shift their hours of operation and their focus to accommodate the one-spouse home, Salamon said.

Spouses are not the only concern for MCCS, he added. Children are just as important.

Many children, especially the younger ones, will not understand what is going on and why their parent has to go away for a while, said Gail Perry, Counseling Support Prevention and Education Specialist. To help them understand, MCFTB will be holding a series of Children's Deployment Briefs.

"We go through a lot of training for Marines and spouses to prepare them for what's going on," she said. "So we really need to do the same for children."

The briefs will focus on positive coping skills for the children, address common concerns children may have, help families stay connected through letter-writing activities and help parents find activities their children can do to help them feel closer to their deployed parent, Perry said. A puppet show and age-appropriate activity projects will be used to get the message across.

"The puppet show addresses many of the concerns children may have," she said. "It's a fun way of helping kids understand that leaving is part of their parent's job and that they aren't leaving because their child was bad or anything like that."

The first brief, scheduled for Wednesday, is already full, according to Mona Messer, MCFTB Manager and Key Volunteer Trainer.

"We want to keep the classes to about 50 children," she said. "It will help hit home with children that it's not just 'my mommy or my daddy' that's gone, but that their peers are in the same situation."

A second brief is scheduled for March 7 at the Community Center, with more briefs to come in the future, depending on the demand for them, Messer added.

Another program planning a shift in focus to spouses and children of deployed Marines and sailors is Semper Fit, Salamon said.

"We currently have personal training available for spouses and family members who want to get in shape," said Jude Wood, Semper Fit Coordinator. "Trainers do a full-body composition analyses and set up an individual workout program, which is about a $200 value out in town. Here it is F-R-E-E. free."

Semper Fit also offers a nutritional counseling class and a "fun run" series for families to get involved in, she said. They are also working on a series of "Invest in Yourself" programs that encompass personal growth through physical and mental challenges.

A family-day picnic is scheduled for April, Wood said. The picnic will be a carnival-style atmosphere with clowns, face painting, inflatable games for children and food and drink.

There have also been additions to the youth sports program, she said. T-ball is coming up and several mothers have already volunteered to coach the teams.

Semper Fit has several programs in the development stage as well, specifically designed for spouses, Wood said.

So far, $70,000 in funds has been approved by Headquarters Marine Corps for these programs, Salamon said. Once all the funds are approved, programs will include classes on skills such as giving a massage, Salsa and Hip-Hop dancing, making scrap-books, gourmet cooking and an adventure series which will include such activities as a GI Jane day, family fun nights, mountain biking and rock wall climbing.

"In some cases, we can offer these programs because the staff has volunteered to shift or extend their hours in order to meet the busy schedules of a single-parent home," Salamon said. "In other cases, the staff is seeking relief funding from Headquarters Marine Corps to pay for additional child care providers. If the funding is received, many of the MCCS events will include free child care at the station's fully certified Child Development Center."

The Counseling Support Center has even gone to the lengths of meeting with local school principals and counselors to make sure they know how to respond to problems kids in their schools may have due to a deployed parent, Perry said. Additional information was provided about on-station support programs available that children can be referred to as well.

The main point MCCS would like to get across with "Operation Support" is that the families have not been forgotten just because their Marine or sailor has deployed, Salamon said.

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