TORII STATION, OKINAWA, JAPAN -- It has become a fact for many during the COVID-19 pandemic —life and work simply cannot go on as normal. Social distancing, teleworking, facility closures and movement restrictions all make trying to deliver services to customers a unique challenge. However, an Army Community Services (ACS) division chief at U.S. Army Garrison (USAG)
Joseph Scriven came to USAG Okinawa in May of 2019, just enough time to get acclimated to the environment.
USAG Okinawa’s ACS normally delivers a wide range of critical services to the community, including relocation readiness, lending closet, Army Emergency Relief, EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program), Family Advocacy Program, Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate, employment readiness, the Army Volunteer Corps and Soldier and Family Readiness Groups (SFRG).
“We also manage contract services, such as the Personal Financial Counselor and Military Family Life Counselor,” Scriven explained.
But with the onset of the coronavirus, how those services get to the customer had to be adjusted.
“The biggest change is that we are all teleworking which means we aren't interacting with our customers face to face,” Scriven said. “I am working with them through my email list and sending out updates daily to keep them informed of training, opportunities and resources. We have also changed the way we are doing Army Emergency Relief (AER). I am processing AER through phone interviews and funds are deposited by AER HQ directly into accounts.”
Scriven himself is doing all this while teleworking with a young child at home while schools are conducted virtually.
“Personally, I usually get up and work out on a kid’s workout video with my 5-year-old so he can burn off some energy before he has to do school work,” he said. “The way I keep busy at home is to spend time in prayer, and I've been doing more exercising now then I was before, with home video workouts. Since we live on a country road I take my wife and son out for a bike ride once or twice a day. My strength comes from the support of my faith, my family, and hearing the good work that our spouse groups are doing.
Speaking of those spouse groups, Scriven says he started hearing about some needs for masks that weren’t being met, communicated that need, and that the SFRGs delivered in a big way, with some key help.
“This developed organically,” said Scriven. “Our SFRGs were already doing amazing things. With (USAG Okinawa) Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Dodge's help we were able to get donations from the USO to provide some material. The reality is that many of those SFRG's supported through their own resources and to date have given more than 1400 masks to our community. This includes hospital workers, first responders, Soldiers and Family Members. Every time I have sent a request they have met it in less than 24 hours. I believe this shows the relevance of Army Community Service in linking amazing volunteers with community needs. Any credit needs to go to them.”
The fact is, times like these point out exactly why ACS remains relevant and important.
“In times of crisis people need a place to turn to,” Scriven said. “ACS is that hub of support. They can link people to vital community resources and provide support to reduce stress and help Commanders with mission readiness. You don't always know what that need is until a crisis or an emergency comes, because every community and emergency is different, but ACS's mission of ‘Providing Real-Life Solutions for Successful Army Living’ becomes real and not just a motto.”
“Army Community Service has an important mission to our Army community; the services, classes and resources they offer help our families in so many ways,” said USAG Okinawa Director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Natalie Boutte. “An employee like Mr. Scriven, who is so dedicated to what he does, is paramount to daily life, especially overseas and during our current environment. Since the day of his arrival, Mr. Scriven has gone above and beyond what anyone could ask for. His continued passion, commitment and innovation to continue services during the COVID-19 pandemic is something to emulate. We are very proud to have him as part of our USAG Okinawa FMWR team.”
Scriven says the hard part of keeping services going, for him, comes when you can’t talk to staff and customers up close and personal.
“Not seeing my staff and customers every day. I love our community and seeing them face to face. A personal challenge with teleworking is doing it with my kid here. He doesn't understand that Dad is working but my wife has been amazing in keeping him busy so I can focus. Some areas of flexibility are tele- or video-conferencing for our MFLC and Personal Financial Counselors. Online processing of AER, and stronger use of our social media and email support.”
Like most, he hopes for the crisis to end as quickly as possible, but plans for the long haul.
“While I'm hoping this ends soon, we are prepared to support as long as the need is there,’ said Scriven. “I'm sure we will continue to evolve services to meet their needs. People are still using ACS Services. It's just they are using different services, instead of in-processing (no one is coming in) and lending closet, I'm working closer with SFRGs and providing resources to help them.”
Scriven has another outlet which helps him and the USAG Okinawa community to cope with the trials of this crisis.
“I'm an ordained minister and have been ministering in military communities for almost 18 years,” he said. “Often that has been as a bi-vocational pastor. When we arrived there were some gaps that we were able to serve in at Torii 2:42 (the Torii Station Chapel), while many of the Chaplains were traveling or not able to make service. Tara, my wife, plays the piano on the worship team and I either play bass or drums. The Chaplains have been doing an amazing job and want to continue to minister to the community online. They are doing daily devotionals. I have worked with some other military resilience speakers in the past and was able to coordinate their help to give a devotional to our community.
“One last thing to talk about is that the strength of Army Community Service really comes from the staff and the amazing Families in our community,” he concluded. “They are the ones that rise to the occasion.”