If you're at Fort Benning without your Soldier and without a home unit, you're not alone - Hearts Apart is here.
Geared toward family members of individual augmentees and Soldiers deployed or training with a home unit not at Fort Benning, Hearts Apart is a network of resources, friendships and information. The program was revitalized on post in the last two months, said Randie Gibson, relocation specialist with Army Community Service.
Spouses who don’t have a support network while their Soldier is on an unaccompanied tour can take advantage of the program, which offers informational e-mails, monthly meetings and special activities.
“We’re their line of communication. We’re bringing them together … to empower them, to keep them encouraged, to make them feel supported, really just to keep them going,” Gibson said.
The meetings include concept block classes on topics like preparing children for heading back to school, using Army resources and how to be an effective military family.
Other activities and outings can be as diverse as participants choose, said Brett Axelberg, who joined after her husband, COL Marc Axelberg, was sent to Iraq as an individual augmentee.
“It’s a neat opportunity for us. We get to design the kind of atmosphere we want the group to have,” Axelberg said. “We get the best of both worlds: we get the support of ACS professionals, and we get to decide our activities.”
Individuals involved in the program — about 20 — are in different situations, but they share the commonality of not having a local rear detachment supporting them. Gibson estimates there are about 100 individual augmentee spouses in the Fort Benning area.
“There are still times when I just need to know there’s somebody out there who knows where I’m at, somebody I can talk to, so belonging to Hearts Apart is a way for me to (connect),” Axelberg said. “Sometimes you just need somebody where you are, either for a resource or for moral support. It’s really a buddy system, I think. You have someone in your corner.”
Axelberg invites families in similar situations to plug in, whether they’re veteran Army spouses or newly married.
“This is the Army’s effort to make sure spouses who want to be connected to a unit family in person feel like they have that personal connection. But it’s going to take us — warm bodies, smiling faces, to show up and say ‘let’s do this’ for people to know it’s really true,” she said. “Give it a chance. You never know what a difference it might make.”
Spouses can be involved as little or as much as they like, Gibson said, but getting in touch is crucial.
“If and when they do need our assistance, it’s our job to be the liaison in fixing any type of problem they may run into, so they don’t feel like they’re left out with no … Army family taking care of them while their (Soldier) is serving,” she said.
“It’s really for their well-being, to ensure their quality of life in the Army is a good and healthy one.”
Gibson said the program leaders are open to suggestions.
To find out more, call 706-545-0403 or stop by the office at Building 2621 in Soldiers’ Plaza between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.