Jen Schwab has been a military kid, a soldier herself, and the spouse left behind to hold down the fort with two small children. She is passionate about the well-being of military families, and lives in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. Her blog is at

Today's guest blog post is from Jen Schwab, blogger, milspouse, military kid, and a former Soldier!
In a National Guard unit, the Family Readiness Group (FRG) newsletter seems to be a deployment anomaly. It springs up when activation orders go out, and trails off as the deployment ends.  There’s a natural life cycle to it, but I argue that the FRG newsletter is the best tool during those non-deployment years, to build trust and audience.
What are the major gripes about FRGs? Catty women. Little or no information. Boring. There is usually very little trust in the FRG from “outsiders” – the two-thirds of family members not regularly involved.
If you wait until a deployment year to get people involved, it’s almost too late. So how do you involve people, who don’t want to be involved, and earn their trust for when the smelly stuff hits the fan?
A better, and permanent FRG newsletter. 
First of all, it needs to be a permanent feature of your FRG. People value and trust consistency. Monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly – makes no difference.  The key is showing that you are dependable.
Narrow your focus to what only you can provide. It does no good to fill up 12 pages if it doesn’t say anything unique or valuable. I can get a recipe anywhere. What I can’t get is the information on when my soldier will be back from Annual Training, and where I can pick him or her up. I can’t Google that. Good quality information will win you fans every time.
Get close to your information source (Commander, 1st Sergeant, etc), and build a working relationship with them.  Make sure they call you when they get new information. Anticipate the needs and make it easy for them to use you to communicate with family members.
Use the newsletter to help people form connections, with you and with each other. Invite (don’t beg) people to come and participate. Share news about the members of the unit – people coming, people going, promotions, births, anniversaries, marriages, etc.
Use a professional voice when writing your newsletter. It’s not an arena for your personal gripe session. Be personal, and identify with people, but always be aware of how your joke or witty remark will be received.
Write for your audience, and use a civilian tone. Don’t use unexplained acronyms or military terms, as they can alienate the very people you’re trying to involve.
Remember that the military continues to evolve with society, and your audience is not all military wives. There are plenty of military husbands, as well as many significant others that are just as affected by military life as spouses. Try not to exclude these other groups in your language.
The FRG newsletter is one of the cheapest and best ways to build camaraderie in the off years. These principles will keep you on track for strong, trustworthy communication.
**For an example of what I do, check out this Sample FRG Newsletter.

Okay, okay, so it wasn't really a party ... but we did have a good time! Our volunteers gathered at the battalion headquarters to load gift baskets and transport them to the temporary barracks where our Soldiers will be returning. In each room, we did a little minor cleaning, made beds, placed gift baskets, and prepared the rooms for the Soldiers' return. It was freezing cold and we were traipsing up three flights of stairs in two different buildings to make it happen, but our volunteers were fabulous. We finished in record time and are so happy to have prepared these rooms for our heroes.

Fabulous volunteers ready to make up single Soldier rooms!
My adorable nieces came to help the Soldiers.  Here, they look out over the Motor Pools and say, "That's a lot of Army stuff."  =)  Love them!
Our note to the Soldiers ... Welcome Home, Heroes!
Beds made and gift basket prepared.
Hand towels, wash cloths, hand soap are in place.
Snacks and goodies for all.
I appreciate these amazing volunteers (and a few more not pictured here) that made this day happen.  Our Soldiers will feel the love when they return home!

Phase III of our Single Soldier project consisted of taking all the goodies that have been donated and purchased and organizing them into gift baskets. We had a great group of volunteers throughout the day helping with this gargantuan task.

Some super ladies worked hard today to prepare for this redeployment.  I'm SO very appreciative of everyone who came out to help today!

We started an assembly line for creating the single Soldier 'welcome home' baskets.  It was a fine-tuned machine by the end of the day ... and we ended up with 181 assembled baskets!

The assembly line starts with a laundry basket, welcome home poster, and a Ziploc with a few paper goods -- paper plates, cups, and plastic ware.

Next, they get a bath towel and a package of Wet Ones wet wipes.

Adding hand towels, wash cloths, and an American flag

Next goes the laundry detergent and dryer sheets

Two bottles of water, a Cup of Noodles, and a USO kit

A book to read, cheese crackers, and Slim Jims

Body soap, body wash, and hand soap

Candy bars, granola bars, and a can of Coca Cola

Cookies, chips, pretzels, and a package of hot cocoa mix

A box of Girl Scout cookies, an "IRAQ, I Served" sticker, and a letter from an elementary student are the finishing touches.

We took a few breaks to roll towels and replenish stations.

Everyone had a job to do and the process went pretty quickly.

An example of a finished basket

Some of our finished baskets!

Lots of goodies for our single Soldier heroes!

We filled up the room with completed baskets.

We worked one poor volunteer into a corner.  =)

We started a Pillow-Toss line to get all of the donated pillows into the storage room.

Our rear detachment commander came in to check on us ... and learned you can't disrupt the flow of a pillow-toss line.

This is the end of the pillow toss line.

And we had a few moments of pillow-fight fun at the end of the day.

We left the room like this ... ready to be delivered and placed when flights start coming in.  Yay!

[Some of] our Volunteer Dream Team ... others came and helped but, unfortunately, I didn't get a group photo of everyone who came today.  =(

Phase II of our single Soldier project consisted of shopping for the items needed for our baskets using the funds donated by our Families for this project.  On shopping day, six ladies spent six hours going to six different stores to purchase items for 181 Soldiers. It was great fun and we can't wait to get baskets assembled for these heroes!

*One funny note ... when I told a friend we were shopping for single Soldiers, she said, "That's what I used to do before I met my (Soldier) husband!" ;)

Here is our group at Sam's Club where we made great progress toward getting yummy snacks for our Soldiers!

Clearing the shelves at Dollar Tree #3

Counting towels ... we cleared most colors and went home with 181 towels!

Piling into four shopping carts

Counting wash cloths and hand towels.

Keeping running totals is important!

Dish detergents for each barracks room

Time to check out!  Walmart even offered a 10% discount, saving us about $100.00

There are many exciting things happening with Soldiers get ready to come home from a deployment. One of the projects our FRG has taken on is providing gift baskets for every single Soldier returning to a barracks room. When they arrive, exhausted from a long flight and even longer deployment, we want them to feel a warm welcome home. Since they aren't allowed to drive for the first day or so (and many can't get to their stored vehicles anyway), we wanted them to have a few survival items and some yummy snacks to get through those first days home.

Phase I of this project is fundraising.  Because this is for a specific group within our FRG (only single Soldiers), we needed to raise funds for this specific project.  Our answer (taken from several other groups at Fort Hood who have hosted similar projects) was to have a "Sponsor a Single Soldier" fundraiser.  Our unit Families were invited to sponsor a basket for $35.00 or donate items to be placed in the baskets.  It was a HUGE success and we were able to get everything we needed for these heroes.

*Note:  We recommend that you send ALL items to your unit's JAG office before publishing anything.  We received written permission at every step ... and would encourage you to do the same.  ;)

We are very excited and cannot wait to welcome these heroes home!

You can see a copy of our "Operation Upgrade Tracker" on SlideShare.  It's an Excel spreadsheet that helped us keep track of what had been donated, what we needed to shop for, and items that were still needed.

This is a sample of the flyer we used (created on PowerPoint).