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Howie understands high cost of freedom
Family assistance specialist provides services for Eastern Oregon’s Guard unit
ONTARIO — Nearly every week Tara Howie secures the chance to observe first-hand the cost of a decade of war.
The human fragments of battle filter into her office at the Ontario Armory at different times; sometimes they arrive with a wife or a girlfriend or a friend. Nearly always they seek help.
Howie, who lives in Payette, Idaho, and is the area family assistance specialist for the Oregon National Guard’s Family Program, understands the cost of freedom.
She sees it every day.
At first glance, Howie’s job appears straight-forward. As a contract employee in support of the National Guard Family Assistance Program, Howie’s role is to provide services for family members of Guardsmen across Eastern Oregon. From assisting with legal queries to answering questions about finances to assisting in crisis intervention, family assistance specialists often furnish a crucial link between families and local Guard units.
Howie, along with FAS teammate Jody Marsh in La Grande, deliver services to 10 counties in Eastern and Central Oregon. Though based in Ontario, Howie is often called to assist with cases in places like Hermiston or Burns.
The vast distances of Eastern Oregon — from the wide open desert steppe to the Blue Mountains — means Howie must find a way to bridge the gap in distance to be effective. One way, she said, is simple: Build relationships with community stakeholders across the arc of Eastern Oregon.
“As you can imagine, there are some challenges we face because of the vast area which we serve,” Howie said. “We are considered subject matter experts in our region which extends from Malheur to Sherman County so we do a lot of networking on the phone.”
While the collective spotlight during the War on Terror rested, justifiably, on the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform, who fought in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, the plight of those left behind often fell into the background.
Standing behind every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or reservists that deployed during the War on Terror was usually an extended family. Just as often that family included a spouse and children. The impact of conflict, of long absences of a parent to a combat zone on children remains a lingering byproduct of America’s longest war and is likely to reverberate into the future, Howie said. The impact of deployment differs in each individual family, she added.
“Reactions have varied depending on the age and developmental stage of each child. I have had parents come in with young children that were having temper tantrums and separation anxiety” Howie said.
Older children, Howie said, often deal with the trauma of deployment in different ways.
“School age kids deal more with worry and increased responsibilities around the house,” she said.
Howie pointed to statistics generated by the Guard’s Family Assistance Program as ample evidence the tentacles of the war on terror reached deep into the social fabric of Oregon’s rural population. Those statistics show that more than 500 children in Eastern Oregon were touched by an overseas deployment in the past 10 years.
One chief reason for the significant regional impact of the war on terror centers on two separate deployments during a six-year period of Eastern Oregon’s Guard combat outfit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment. The unit, with its headquarters in La Grande, deployed to Iraq in 2004 and again in 2010.
Children and families of Guardsmen and reservists faced an unusual set of challenges during the war on terror, according to Linda Davidson, the co-founder and executive director of Our Military Kids, Inc. Our Military Kids is a non-profit organization devoted to helping military families and lifted off the ground in 2004.
Davidson said the fact Guard and Reserve families are, by their very nature, are situated away from active duty military bases. That often means the challenges they faced because of a deployment can slip under the collective radar.
“Because they are not near a military base, the general population does not connect them to the military,” Davidson said.
Davidson’s non-profit organization is designed to furnish support for children of deployed or injured Guard and Reserve personnel with grants for sports, arts and tutoring. The program is all about nurturing, Davidson said. So far, she said, the program achieved notable successes across America.
Howie wonders what will happen down the road once the last American service member leaves Afghanistan and the war on terror is regulated to the history books. Yet she said the awareness level regarding the challenges children and families of deployed Guardsmen face is growing.
“Great strides have been made to assist soldiers and their families over the past decade but there is always room for more,” she said. “For instance, in the area of mental health, many veterans, service and family members are going without mental health care because of the limited availability of such care and the barriers to accessing care.”