SAVANNAH, Ga. – The overflow of scattered folders revealed not only routine administrative paperwork, but awards and certificates of recognition uncovering a vast set of accomplishments for her work as coordinator of the Savannah District’s Family Readiness Network.
Paula Hanna juggles her schedule supporting two separate legs of the Corps mission. As an executive administrator for deputy commander Lt. Col. Tom Woodie, she dedicates approximately 40 percent of her schedule as the principal support liaison for deployed civilian personnel and their families, she said.
For her efforts, Hanna earned two “You Rock!” awards from the South Atlantic Division and the South Pacific Division, in May and October 2014. She has served multilaterally across districts and divisions receiving recognition for her work since assuming her role in 2010.
“I have a passion for the program and the mission,” she said. “I’ve always been very compassionate and eager to provide outreach support to others, and by being involved with FRN, it organizes my passion into a curriculum.”
Hanna bridges communications between district leadership and deployed members supporting overseas contingencies or responding to natural disasters. She also refers family members to support networks or resources available to them during and after their loved one’s deployment, she said.
District employee, Sarah Murphy, whose husband recently returned from overseas, said she has a solid support network of family and friends but appreciates the services FRN offers.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge to adjust to a more independent lifestyle,” she said. “I would encourage anyone eligible to utilize the resources offered through FRN. They have a wide variety of services and activities available, all completely optional with no pressure to participate. I think it’s phenomenal that FRN extends these to civilians affected by a deployment.”
Maintaining esprit de corps across oceans or continents is a team effort for Hanna and a few district volunteers, she said.
“We may provide care packages during the holidays or send banners downrange to our deployed personnel to let them know we’re here and thinking of them,” she said. “Before a member departs, we also want to inform them of all the … resources available to them and their families before, during and after a deployment.”
Local military installations, such as Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield often provide classes and workshops for families of deployed civilians. Hanna also reaches out to contacts located on Forts Bragg, Benning and Gordon, who’s Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or MWR, centers funnel resources for civilian families in the district, she said.
Additionally, she works with many community supporters such as Army One Source, Operation Home Front, and Care for Troops, who are fervent supporters of uniformed troops, and all Department of Defense employees. Hanna works to marry beneficiaries to these organizations because they are often unaware of their eligibility, she said.
“Considering the internal and external risks surrounding a deployment, beneficiaries should be aware of their options,” she said. “Regardless of one’s status while deployed, all personnel are exposed to the risks found in a war zones that may lead to Post Traumatic Stress, brain injury or other deployed-induced reactions.”
Hanna cultivated her appetite for service through years of volunteer work as a peer counselor at youth crisis centers and shelters for women and children, she said.
“I’ve had to handle numerous casualties and crisis situations,” she said. “I’m very comfortable with picking up the phone and assisting people with their [challenges].”
As FRN coordinator, she has supported up to 40 deployed members at a time and handled emergency situations that demanded around-the-clock support.
“I’ve had to reach out to the wife of a seriously injured deployed member who could not be immediately evacuated from his deployed location. I was on call for 24 hours coordinating travel to transport the wife to her husband,” she said.
Although civilians comprise the majority of the Corps, Hanna said there is often a challenge with channeling information to a small minority of active-duty Soldiers stationed off-post throughout the region. Many are often the ‘last-to-know’ of Army updates or policy changes.
“I work with other FRN program coordinators across districts to assure that our FRN is well-linked and knowledgeable of the benefits offered to our members,” she said. “My job is significant because I have to be aware of the many resources available to our civilian and Soldier populations. Sometimes, everyone feels out of the loop because they are uneducated on assistance available to them.”
Hanna said she pledges to continue seek additional resources and benefits to assist members and their families during seasons of uncertainty and extended separation.
Currently, Savannah District has three members deployed and eight members of the 542nd Forward Engineering Support Team – Advanced scheduled to deploy to Kuwait in January.
Since its establishment in 2009 at the Savannah District, the FRN has one of the highest response rates in the Corps of Engineers for Overseas Contingency Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has deployed more than 200 team members to facilitate the construction of critical infrastructure and public facilities for these countries.
For more information on the program, please visit the FRN Homepage or contact Paula Hanna at 912-652-5175 or 912-346-5629.