“At first I was in denial and hoping it wouldn’t happen,” lamented Kelly Countryman, 104th Training Division (LT) Family Readiness Support Assistant (FRSA), who, along with her colleague Jane Neuharth, will no longer travel to 104th units in different cities and states across the country.
Due to 2019 changes to the U.S. Army Reserve Family Programs, Countryman and Neuharth now belong to the 88th Readiness Division, and will serve units regionally. The opportunities to network locally will be easier for the two FRSAs, increasing important resources beneficial to Soldiers and their Families.
“Now that I’m getting into the swing of things, I feel that I have the opportunity to provide even better resources and assistance to even more people”, Countryman added candidly.
104th FRSA – Early Years
Over the years the two of them racked up many miles, experiencing memorable events as they assisted units’ Soldiers and Families.
Neuhaurth, who was the first to be hired, had an interesting initiation and orientation when she first came on board in 2009. At that point, the 104th was split between Vancouver Barracks and Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord) due to delays in staff arriving on-site and their new Army Reserve Center being incomplete and unavailable. She was able to set up a temporary shop in the LDAC forward-support-element building on post with “three crazy G3 guys…and a Major who told me all about the mission and history of the 104th Division” Neuharth shared.
The FRSA position had been vacant for several years and there were a number of additional duties and roles that were not filled at the division’s new location. Neuhaurth, who brought with her a unique set of skills, volunteered to fill-in. She assumed a timekeeper role, Defense Travel System NDEA, and became ASIST and ACE-SI certified in order to teach Suicide Prevention classes prior to the suicide prevention program manager being hired. Additionally, she started the Timberwolf Family News in 2010 and became the Command Officer Representative for the Army Disaster Personnel Accountability and Assessment system.
Prior to the 104th Training Division (LT) reorganization and Countryman’s hire five years ago, Neuharth had a territory that extended across the country in eighteen states!
“Trying to get to fourteen battalions each year to support SRP was a challenge,” Neuhaurth admitted. “For three of those years, I was still a drilling Guard Soldier.” That particular situation made it difficult at times to balance traveling to units in her civilian capacity or taking part in her own drill weekends.
In addition to the support she provided, Neuhaurth was also known for taking small Timberwolf figures as a special gift to units. The rapport she developed with Battalion leaders was apparent and when their orders brought them to division. Neuhaurth shared they were “happy to see a friendly face” when running into her.
Neuhaurth and Countryman have been a division team for the past five years; one covering the 104th HHC, 1st Brigade and its five battalions and the other covering the 2nd Brigade and its four battalions. For both women, past personal experience has been a very important teacher.
As the daughter of an active duty Sailor, Countryman called several states home during her upbringing. Born in Utah, she also spent time in California and Hawaii.
Neuharth was born in California and moved to Canada at age 13 when her father (who saw WWII duty) took a job there. Joining the Army at age 21, Neuharth’s first assignment took her to Germany where she met her husband Bob, who was also serving. Lucky for them, they received joint domicile placement in the next three duty stations: Fort Meade, Maryland, Fort Sam, Texas, and Fort Lewis, Washington. Their luck ran out in 1993 and she wasn’t able to accompany her husband to his next duty station: Italy. At that point Neuharth, a Sgt. 1st Class, said “haha, Deuces!” and went to Italy not as a Soldier, but as a dependent.
Countryman’s husband Jeremie also served. They PCS’d to many states over the course of his active duty career: Texas, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington. They also spent some time in Germany.
“Hubs” as Countryman affectionately refers to him, was serving in the Marines when they were first married and he retired from the Army in 2016 with a total of twenty years of active duty service.
“My husband and son, who is currently a Master Sgt. and still serving in the guard, deployed together to Afghanistan for a year and then my husband deployed three more times” Countryman explained.
“I don’t know how to be a regular civilian” she professed, “I’ve been a military dependent all but about six years of my life”.
Before “Hubs,” Countryman’s dependent status was based on her dad’s service. A retired Sailor, her father served a total of 28 years, with two tours to Vietnam on top of frequent deployments as a Navy Seabee lasting up to six months, every year until Kelly was an adult.
There was a short break in her role as military spouse when Countryman’s husband left the military for a few years. A couple of civilian moves later however, Jeremie was back in, serving in the Utah National Guard and deploying for a total of fifty-four months away from home.
Before coming to the 104th, Countryman also had professional experiences making her well suited and all the more qualified for the Soldier and Family work the FRSA job would demand.
“I’ve been a travel agent, an airline reservation agent, a bookkeeper, office manager for several small production companies’” she explained. “I was even ‘Kelly, the Kelly girl’ for Kelly Temporary Services for years.”
Countryman also worked for Army Community Services at Fort Hood, Texas, as their volunteer coordinator, training FRSA new hires and Commanders.
Although the Family Readiness program, then in its infancy, was well funded, most Commanders did not yet understand it in depth, “so we trained them right along with the FRSAs,” she emphasized.
Before Countryman had any idea she would end up working as an FRSA, she became closely acquainted with the Family Readiness Groups’ importance to military Families.
“I’ve lived through a lot” she began candidly. “…my husband’s first deployment was a financial hardship, plus the week after Christmas my pipes froze, my roof sprung a leak and my furnace broke, all in the same week!” she exclaimed. “I found out quickly what resources a military spouse has access to thanks to the Family Readiness Group (FRG) Leader and an FRSA.” During another deployment, this time while the Family was in Germany, her son was in and out of the hospital and when an illness struck her personally she learned to rely heavily on her FRG family as she was far from her home and family.
In a strange twist of fate, Kelly actually became a FRSA in Germany. She had applied for several jobs and was offered two positions, one at a German company that paid well and had great benefits (not to mention a big office) and one as the FRSA. However, both employers were in the middle of a hiring freeze so she waited. The German company called and stated it had lost its contract so the position was no longer available and “exactly nine minutes later I received the official email from CPAC offering me the FRSA position” she recounted. “I took it as a sign from my Father in Heaven and accepted the job.”
“Best thing I ever did because I absolutely love what I do and I’ve been truly happy in my role as a FRSA ever since. That was in 2011” she enthused.
For Neuharth, following their time in Italy, her husband Bob received orders to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and retired in 2000. At that point she decided to return to the Army National Guard, serving twelve more years, leaving the service a second time as a “blue card Retiree, baby” she laughed with a mix of amusement and pride.
During Jane’s break in service, she was a stay at home mom and a Family Support Group Leader in Italy, but prior to that, a long stint in a medical hold offered Neuharth “a lot of insight to the transition experience and many, many resources to share.”
This led her to look at employment through USAJOBS that would be a good fit with her military service and eventually led her to a FRSA position that “dovetailed so nicely with my volunteer experience.” With those experiences behind her, it is not surprising Neuharth has been very successful in her ten years of work at the 104th.
The FRSA Impact
Neuharth, who has worked for the 104th for ten years has a deep understanding of Soldier, Family and unit challenges.
“Family Readiness affects retention first and foremost. I believe that Families make or break the decision to continue military service…Families that are unprepared for the stresses of separation, even so short as Annual Training, can make routine issues ‘blow up’ for the Soldier and the leadership” she asserted unapologetically.
Conversely, “Families who know what Army Reserve benefits bring to them can make a thoughtful decision about supporting the demands put on their Soldiers,” she explained.
Recalling a recent contribution, Lt. Col. Reginald Eggleston, 4th Battalion, 413th Regiment, 1st Brigade commented on Neuharth’s service, “[She] was a tremendous help to 4-413 SROTC last year. She attended our annual training event and briefed my Soldiers on resources available to them. Ms. Neuharth also made herself available when my Family Readiness coordinator needed assistance starting our program. I really appreciate her willingness to ensure our family readiness program was up and running.“
The wealth of knowledge some FRSAs have to impart to Soldiers, Families and leaders is priceless and Germany, with all its challenges for Countryman, is a prime example.
Not surprisingly, Countryman used those experiences in her role as a FRSA in the 2/2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment during the time her husband was stationed in Germany.
“FRSAs are full-time Civilians who can assist the units with Family programs and the resources needed so that the Family volunteers and commanders can concentrate on taking care of their Families,” Countryman explained. “Soldiers are free to concentrate on the mission, rather than on what may be happening at home” she added unabashedly.
All the “dependent experiences” as daughter, spouse and mother were fundamental in her understanding the impact a Family Readiness program would have on Soldiers and their loved ones.
The contributions of the two have not gone unnoticed. Countryman has received a Civilian Service Commendation Medal and two Civilian Service Achievement Medals as well as several federal employee incentive awards.
Neuharth has received the following: Commanders Award for Civilian Service for assistance with the dedication of the SSG Coby Schwab Army Reserve Center, and a Civilian Service Achievement Medal. Both have received numerous certificates of appreciation and achievement from the brigade and battalions they have supported over the years.
The 104th Family
“It was a privilege,” Neuharth stated firmly. “I traveled nationwide for a division with a coast-to-coast footprint, representing the priorities of the commanding general.”
Her caring dedication and Timberwolf pride shows. “Until reorganization, I was the ‘institutional memory’ at headquarters, knowing how things were, why things changed and who did what…We put a lot of energy into knowing and understanding military support programs that are relevant to 104th Families” she remarked.
For Countryman, joining the 104th was also meaningful.
From day one, she was warmly welcomed by her division colleagues and soon felt like a member of the 104th Family. “One coworker in particular has been there for me through thick and thin,” she explained, “… my co-FRSA Jane Neuharth. She’s kept me laughing when all I wanted to do was cry and kept me sane through all of life’s challenges over the past 5 Â½ years. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.”
Likewise, Neuharth has appreciated Countryman’s efforts from the beginning.
“[When] Kelly came on board…we made a tight team and she concentrated on the battalions that were re-organizing and the incoming [new] battalions. I’m very happy with the way we divided up the responsibilities and the relationship we’ve built over the years,” Neuharth explained. “We are truly ‘Kelly/Jane.’” The term Kelly/Jane became a joke between the two of them after the frequency with which they were mistaken for each other in the beginning.
Not only have they made an impact on each other’s lives over the years, the division is extremely grateful for their contributions professionally as well as personally.
John Kaikkonen, 104th Chief Executive Officer, wholeheartedly appreciates their devotion to the division.
Presenting Neuharth and Countryman their awards he stated, “On behalf of every command team, every Family, every Soldier: for everything that you have done; for your dedication; your technical prowess, and quite frankly your kindness. We truly appreciate everything”. Nestled in the professional impact on the division, there was visibly a personal one. “We are sad that you are leaving,” he added.