BOSTON – “It’s really isolating,” said Rayna Charles, “It’s a very isolating experience.”
For nearly a year, Charles, a native of Hawaii, has been adapting to life as a single mother. It was last February when her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Claudy Charles left home. Claudy Charles is currently serving in Afghanistan with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, as the medical non-commissioned officer in charge. This is his first deployment.
“When your living on a base, everybody’s there … everybody’s away from their family, everybody’s in the same experience,” said Charles, “When your husband’s a member of the National Guard; sometimes people have their family here … sometimes they don’t. We’re all, geographically all over the place. Most of the member’s of Claudy’s unit are scattered around, from Springfield to Nantucket.”
While over two million American Servicemen have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, what Charles is experiencing is rather unique to the spouses of National Guard and Reserve personnel.
“When you live in the civilian world and you’re National Guard, there’s not a people who are in your situation,” said Charles, “or know what it’s like to have a spouse or family member who’s deployed.”
While the Massachusetts National Guard operates the Military and Family Support Center to assist the family members at home, there is another group that can impact how a spouse deals with the issues a deployment can bring.
“That’s why I wanted to nominate my employer,” said Charles,” In the absence of having any family here, they’ve been my support system.”
Charles, who works for the Children’s Trust Fund as their Healthy Families Training Coordinator, contacted the Massachusetts Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve nominated the group for a Patriot Award.
The Patriot Award is one way the Department of Defense recognizes an employer for supporting their employee beyond what is legally required. This recognition is not automatically awarded; the employee must first nominate them.
“We were surprised,” said Suzin Bartley, Executive Director, Children’s Trust Fund, “It was a pleasant surprise.”
Even though the current overseas contingency operations have been going on for over a decade; Charles is the first employee the CTF has ever had who is experiencing all the challenges a deployment brings.
“Our job is to strengthen and support families so that they can raise their kids well,” said Bartley,” So how could we not step in when one of our own staffer’s is going through a difficult time.”
In a small ceremony, Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard, presented the Patriot Award to the CTF.
“I’m not surprised that the Children’s Trust Fund would step up to the plate and go above and beyond,” said Carter, “not just following the law, but taking decisive, thoughtful action and caring support for one of its employees who has a spouse deployed.”
Some of the things CTF did were to check in with Rayna and offer a wide spectrum of assistance; everything from helping her and Claudy keep in touch, helping the couple’s daughter, Mailia, when she was really missing her father, to sending Claudy care packages. CTF even gave Rayna the flexibility to “float” her vacation so that it would sync with Claudy’s leave.
“I left for his R&R during a very busy time here,” said Charles, “we had just received federal funding and a lot was going on.”
It was this kind of support factored in to CTF receiving the Patriot Award.
“The sacrifice that we ask our men and women; Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors to make is great; having an organization like the Children’s Trust Fund to really set an example for taking that extra step to support family members really helps us to achieve our mission,” said Carter, “ I can tell you that Claudy was able to be resilient and do his job in an effective manner because he knew back home that his wife’s employer was not only supporting her, but her child while he was deployed.”