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Former Army 'shirt' will drive family readiness in 131st, seeks volunteers

131st Bomb Wing Airman and Family Readiness Program manager, Mr. Gary Woods, chats with family readiness volunteer Ms. Sole Suchomel at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Whiteman AFB, Missouri.  Woods is actively seeking volunteers to help with a variety of programs.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison)

131st Bomb Wing Airman and Family Readiness Program manager, Mr. Gary Woods, chats with family readiness volunteer Ms. Sole Suchomel at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Woods is actively seeking volunteers to help with a variety of programs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri --
If an Airman is having issues managing his own finances, he has a resource to teach him how in the 131st Family Readiness Group. If a woman's husband is deployed and she doesn't know what to do when her car breaks down, she has a resource in the FRG. And, for the military spouse who is looking for something to do with the kids during a drill weekend, he can find answers at the FRG.

Single or married, with or without children, there are a myriad of resources available from the 131st FRG.

"It's my intent to create a robust family network program that will help prepare the families of the 131st Bomb Wing," said Gary Woods, the new 131st Bomb Wing Airman and Family Readiness Program manager, who comes to the position from U.S. Army Garrison Japan. "Supporting the National Guard is a bit more of a challenge. But, it's important to recognize those demographics and create programs that reach out to our Citizen Airmen across the state, and sometimes across state lines."

Woods, a former U.S. Army first sergeant, led more than 600 Soldiers during three different tours - two in Japan and one at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Reaching out to and helping service members is something that Woods was taught by one of his early mentors in the Army.

"I still remember Staff Sgt. Clark," Woods said. "He said, 'What I help you do, make sure you do for two or three other people."

Woods took that message to heart and helped much more than two or three. While at Fort Gordon, Georgia, he became the first sergeant for the 297th Military Intelligence Battalion. Then, after he moved to Japan, he was assigned as the U.S. Army Garrison Japan first sergeant at Camp Zama, Japan. That assignment morphed into a third tour as a first sergeant at Headquarters, Headquarters Company U.S. Army Japan/1st Corp Forward.

In those positions, Woods worked closely with company commanders and provided day-to-day guidance to the Soldiers in the unit. He emphasized genuinely caring for service members beyond the uniform. Now, Woods intends to use that experience to drive the 131st  family readiness program here.

Family readiness programs in the Department of Defense are vital to the mission, and especially applicable to National Guardsmen who do not constantly live the military lifestyle. There are a variety of programs that family readiness professionals promote.

· They encourage overall unit morale by making sure Airmen and their families are coping well with military life. Or, they promote programs and resources available to families of deployed Airmen. Some program managers call regularly to the family of deployed Airmen to ensure the home front is safe or check-in just to say "hello" and the unit is here thinking of you.

· Family readiness managers also maintain unit retention by ensuring the members are taken care of throughout their time in service. Woods recalled how his wife, Renee, would attend baby showers so the Soldiers in his unit felt part of a team and would want to stay within that team.

· And lastly, program managers provide an understanding of - and access to - available government benefits or entitlement programs. They may hold classes on government insurance for deployed members, or programs on managing finances.

The success of the programs depends on volunteers, said Woods. As he energizes FRG programs at the wing, he is actively seeking volunteers from 131st Airmen and their families to participate or share their ideas to improve on what has been done in the past.

Ready to refer concerns to Woods are the 131st chaplains. As they walk around visiting with Citizen Airmen, the chaplains need to be ready to direct the Airmen or their dependents to the spiritual, medical or basic "functions of living" resources available here, said Lt. Col. Scott Doby, wing chaplain for the 131st Bomb Wing.

"We are fortunate in this wing to have people who are walking encyclopedias in their field," said Doby. "As a former first sergeant, without a shadow of a doubt, Mr. Woods understands the military culture and family culture. He'll be prepared to handle a variety of experiences in his new role."

In addition to the chaplain's office, Woods is also looking forward to working with other members of Team Whiteman to help Airmen and their families.

"The biggest thing I want to do is take advantage of our location and capitalize on Total Force Integration," he said of the Air National Guard's relationship with other active and reserve units at Whiteman. "I want to act with my counterparts in the 509th (Bomb Wing) and 442nd (Fighter Wing, Air Force Reserve). We need to build a network and establish relationships that will reach out to all of our Airmen and their dependents who need support."

For more information on volunteer opportunities with the 131st Family Readiness Group, contact Mr. Gary Woods at gary.woods.4@us.af.mil.