White Sands Missile Range’s Army Community Service center recently celebrated 50 years of service to Military Families and the WSMR community. Due to the installation’s unique location, WSMR’s ACS is unlike any other in that it provides necessary programs for Military Families to avoid the long drive into town.
“Because we are remote, we are the social-services hub for the installation and we are the place to go when you don’t know where else to go,” said ACS Director Patsy Gomez. “If we don’t have the resources, we can certainly look for them or create them.”
The team of five manages a total of 13 programs for the installation. The programs include: Army Family Action Planning, Army Volunteer Corps Coordination, Exceptional Family Member, Family Advocacy, New Parent Support, Holiday Helping Hands, Army Emergency Relief, Army Family Team Building, Baby Strong, Financial Readiness, Master Resiliency Training, Outreach and Relocation Readiness.
“We are the go-to agency,” said ACS Employee Anna Maria Vestal. “We are here to provide support to active duty, Family members and civilians with the necessary resources for them.”
Exceptional Family Member Program
Vestal runs the volunteer program, EFMP, and fills in for others as needed. EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program for all Military Families. The program helps ensure medical or education needs of the Exceptional Family Member are met during their stay at WSMR.
“EFMP is always one that is really vital to take care of Military Families with special needs,” she said.
According to an Army newsletter, ACS was developed in order to provide social services in a viable framework. The concept started in New York where outside organizations lent a helping hand to ease Soldiers, Family members and civilians with struggles and hardship. Due to the success of the program, in 1965, Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, signed a letter approving the establishment of ACS.
Gomez said, even with the recent departure of the 2nd Engineer Battalion, they still continue to provide the same services and she said they will continue to do so even if it’s reduced to only one Soldier on the installation.
“Our level of services extend well beyond the boundaries of White Sands,” she said. “Whoever comes in, we’ll help.”
She said the biggest issue with ACS programs not being used is Soldiers don’t know these resources are available when they in-process and therefore spouses are ill-informed as well.
“The reality is, they don’t know,” she said.
ACS has a Facebook page where they keep the community informed and answer questions Family members who will be PCSing to WSMR may have. Due to lack of attendance, they were forced to cancel a Newcomer Orientation that was being held on a quarterly basis to educate the incoming community on the programs offered at WSMR.
Even when there isn’t a program that exists to help an individual with a specific need, Gomez said, they can always try to develop one for them. She said that is how some of the programs like Baby Strong got started.
“We try to encompass all services and the local community into most of our programs,” Vestal said.
The Baby Strong program is a pay-it-forward program where Military Families can get the clothes they need for their infants and when the child outgrows them, they can return the clothes to get the next size up. They can also donate any other clothes they may no longer need to the program, as well.
Army Emergency Relief
AER provides services not only to the Army but also the Air Force, Navy and retired personnel. Andrew Lucht, ACS personal financial readiness specialist, serves as the AER liason and the financial advisor for the installation. The AER program helps military members from all over New Mexico and retirees from all over the world. In 2015 WSMR’s AER was able to provide over $78,000 of financial relief to active duty and retired military members and Families. Lucht said financial assistance is extended to anyone from Soldiers, active and retired and their Families, surviving spouses and orphans who are experiencing a financial hardship with emergency financial assistance.
“I enjoy this aspect of my job as everyone, at one time or another has a financial emergency,” he said. “Being able to assist someone in that time of need is very rewarding.”
Financial Readiness Program
The Financial Readiness Program at ACS offers education, counseling and support services to assist active and retired Soldiers, their Families and Department of the Army civilians with their financial affairs, Lucht said. He provides services one-on-one or in a classroom setting upon request.
“My job is to help my customers build financial resiliency which includes learning to live within ones means, and financial planning for the future,” he said.
ACS also hosts blood drives for the installation and the Women Infants and Children program when it comes in twice a month.
“It saves you time from having to drive into Las Cruces,” Vestal said.
Gomez said it makes it easier on the community when you bring a program here because it takes out the obstacle of having to go into town.
“It’s just about taking care of our family members here,” she said. “Not everybody can get out of the installation when they want.”
The organization also spearheads events during awareness and prevention months, like Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The entire building is also equipped with Wi-Fi, Gomez said sometimes people will stop by just to use the Wi-Fi. There is also an official room for organized play, which allows the parent to relax while their child plays.
“If you’ve never been here before, come by to take a tour,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to having you visit. Maybe it’ll make your time here more memorable.”
For more information about WSMR ACS call (575) 678-6767.