Local Army Reserve battalion hosts Family Day

As the wife of an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, Cheri Fish says she and her family have changed residences 10 times in 10 years. She knows another move is in store when her husband says, "We need to talk."

Fish knows Army life can be hard on families who might not call any one place home for long. But she hopes members of the Fort Meade-based 3rd Training Support Battalion, 312 Regiment will remember that they can look back to Maryland for support.

Her husband, Lt. Col. Calvin E. Fish, is commander for the battalion, which on Sunday held its Family Day event at Blob's Park in Jessup. She said she hopes the celebration will help forge community for a unit whose members are rarely in the same place at the same time.

"This event is about getting these families together and getting them to start talking with each other," said Cheri Fish, 47, who is the unit's Family Readiness Group leader. "When we lived in American Samoa, my husband got injured and I didn't have a really good social support network in place, and that's what's important."

Among its duties, the battalion mobilizes, deploys and conducts training of Army Reserve, National Guard, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard units. It comprises those who can be moved at a moment's notice, those who serve for one week each month and those assigned for three-year tours.

As battalion and family members caught up, they traded stories about their unique experiences with the service.

Spc. Sharon Preator, 35, of Crofton, was 1 year old when her now-retired father joined the Army. She said she and her brother both followed their father into the military.

Among her most vivid memories of growing up was riding the school bus with military police onboard amid bomb threats in Berlin while her father was stationed there.

Cheri Fish said moving regularly "is always that unknown factor within the military, but it's also that pride factor in knowing you're associated with something that is so unique and so special."

In addition to carnival rides and an antique auto show, the event also included outreach for soldier services, and award ceremonies.

1st Lt. Jessica Gross of Vienna, Va., also assisted in coordinating the event. She said organizers felt it was a good opportunity to offer services that are vital to those who are constantly moving and must assimilate to an area quickly.

"If you have financial issues or need baby sitting or counseling or help for post-traumatic stress, we have a gateway, so you don't have to involve your unit," said Gross, 24.

The unit stages one additional family outing each year, in December for the holiday season.

"We just had our annual training last month, so I felt like I got to know the people I work with a little better," said Sgt. Susan Kleps of Lanham, 31, a reservist who works as an assistant in an art gallery.

"It's different than active duty, because you don't see these people everyday. You just see them once a month," Kleps said. "I hope the kids get to see what their parents do and why their parents sometimes have to work long hours, and hopefully understand and appreciate it."

Sgt. Jeff Schartner, 33, of Frederick agreed.

"For me, it's my way of showing my family that I appreciate all of their sacrifices they put up with for deployment, for training, for schools I go to and weekend drills," said Schartner, 33.

"There are a lot of nights and mornings when my wife has to cover things when I'm not there," Schartner added. "It's my way of saying, 'This is the good side of the Army,' and not, 'I have to leave, and you have to do what I can't do when I'm gone.'"

Retirees and active duty alike pondered what they had missed while on duty, including family holidays, school plays and sporting events. Some say it makes them consider retirement well before making the decision to do so.

"I missed some of the time watching my daughter grow up; she's 21 now. That was a lot of her life that I missed," said retired Master Sgt. Linwood C. Bullock, 57, of Baltimore, who retired in March after more than 35 years.

Retired Master Sgt. Marvin J. Brown, 54, of Gwynn Oak, also retired in March after more than 36 years, due in part to medical concerns. But he said retirement will give more time to his job as an assistant varsity football coach for Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology in Baltimore.

"For most of us, you thought about retiring a few years before you say, 'You know what? This is it,'" Brown said. "Children have grown, we're starting to see grandchildren come through and we don't want to miss that."


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