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“It’s more their heart and soul” 
 
Family Program Awards 

WESTON, Mass. – Major General Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard and Maureen Serrecchia, Massachusetts National Guard State Family Program Office, pose for a picture during an awards ceremony at the Henderson House, Nov. 30, 2010. Serrecchia received the Superior Civilian Service Award for her leadership in running the State Family Program Office. The office assists family members of deployed service members. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs)

Family Program Awards

WESTON, Mass. – Major General Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard and Mrs. Jennifer Cesaitis, Family Assistance Center Coordinator, Massachusetts National Guard State Family Program Office, pose for a picture during an awards ceremony at the Henderson House, Nov. 30, 2010.

By Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs  

WESTON, Mass. –
“Yours is a tireless and thankless job,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard, to the Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees, who had gathered at the Henderson House here, November 30, 2010.

These are the members of Massachusetts National Guard’s State Family Program Office and Deployment Cycle Support Operations. Their “tireless and thankless” duty is to help Soldiers and Airmen who are preparing to deploy overseas and then assist them in navigating the myriad of resources waiting for them when they return home, all the while providing aid and/or assistance to the family members who stay behind.

This was the day the Massachusetts National Guard officially said “thank you”.

“None of these folks seek recognition,” said Lt. Col. David Hencke, Director, Deployment Cycle Support Operations,” But they give a huge amount of time and effort … a lot of it voluntarily, without recompense, without rewards and some of them have done this for several years. They’re the ones taking phone calls in the middle of the night.”

One of the major differences between a Guardsman and his Active Duty counterpart is that when an active duty serviceman deploys, their family can draw on comfort, support and resources located on their base. The family of a deployed Guardsman may not have such easy access due to the fact that they do not live near a base or another family from the unit.

“It’s not a forty hour a week job,” said Maureen Serrecchia, State Family Program Office Director. “Our phones ring on Christmas Eve, our phones ring on Christmas Day, our phones ring on the 4th of July. We service families 24/7.”

These are the people a Guardsman’s family turns to when they need help and don’t know where to turn.

“If this was a job, I think they wouldn’t be here … it’s more their heart and soul,” said Serrecchia.

The phone calls they receive can vary from a crisis; a family member whose oil burner just quit in the dead of winter and the spouse who takes care of these things is overseas, to the simple need to talk to an understanding voice who can help deal with an issue.

“I can make that connection with the family members,” said Jennifer Cesaitis who works in the Worcester office. “For me, one of the things that’s always helped was knowing that I can spend time with and I can speak to other people who are going through the same thing that I’m going through.”

Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Cesaitis is currently deployed to Afghanistan as a platoon leader with the 181st Infantry Regiment. This is his 4th deployment.

“They can call me and ask me what most people would think is of as a silly question … and I understand that sometimes it’s not that silly. When you’re facing all the burdens of caring for a home and the family and the finances and the legal issues and just the concern because maybe their [loved one is] in a combat zone … even the tiniest little things can seem silly, but they’re really not,” said Cesaitis, “They do need that other person who can give them the resources and the information that they need to cope.”

Cesaitis and thirty- two fellow members of the two teams received awards for their work. These thirty-three people seemed shocked, surprised and in more than one case humbled, when their name was called and their award was bestowed.  They had been told that the day’s events would include a little training, followed by a gift swap and then a nice lunch. No one had mentioned awards.

For Cesaitis, working in the State Family Program Office isn’t about receiving awards or recognition; it’s her way of serving the nation.

“The Soldiers get up every morning and they put on their uniforms,” said Cesaitis,” Sitting behind a desk in the family assistance center … It’s my way of being a part of something larger than myself … It is definitely rewarding.”

12/3/2010