GROTON, Conn. - For 40 years, the Fleet and Family Support Program (FFSP) has supported the individual Sailor and family readiness, as well as the adaptation to life in the Navy for service members and their families. Shauna Turner, Director of Navy Family Readiness Programs at Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) calls the FFSC “the proverbial ‘tip of the spear’ sustaining, enabling and supporting the fleet, fighter and family with services and programs throughout the globe.
On July 16, 1979, the first Navy Family Service Center was officially opened in Norfolk, Va. The official inauguration of the New London Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) Family Service Center soon followed.
The idea for the Navy Family Service Center (NFSC) grew out of the Family Awareness Conference held in Norfolk in November 1978. It became evident that a greater effort was needed to meet the needs of the Navy family. Under the leadership of Rear Adm. Nicholson, a task force was set up to explore how to meet this commitment to families. The concept of a centralized family location was developed, which was then quickly implemented with the 1979 opening of the Navy’s first Family Service Center. The active-duty staff provided 24-hour information and referral services, while a group of volunteers assisted with casework follow-up, financial counseling, child welfare liaison, relocation information, special assistance and family enrichment. The center also worked closely with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, American Red Cross, Ombudsmen, Navy Wives Organizations and commands.
Cathy Stokoe was one of the first FFSC volunteers. Her FFSC work ended when she retired from CNIC as the Family Readiness Director. She said, “It is hard to believe how long ago we opened. It is a program I will always feel is very special for our Navy family. I started volunteering in 1977 at the newly opened FFSC in Norfolk because I’d just gone through a nine-month deployment with six kids and a ton of good and bad experiences trying to handle everything. I could have used the help of FFSC, that is for sure.”
However, history shows that the FFSC was almost predestined from as far back as 1948 when a young Lieutenant Zumwalt, (yes, every submariner knows that name) submitted his resignation, only to rescind it at the urging of Gen. George C. Marshall, who appealed to Zumwalt’s patriotism. It seems Zumwalt had been assigned as Marshall’s driver one day and the conversation between the two men led to Lt. Zumwalt’s decision to remain. Lt. Zumwalt’s passion for supporting military families followed him throughout his Naval career. As soon as Adm. Zumwalt became CNO, he committed himself to making the Navy more “family friendly” and issued a number of “Z-Grams” focused on families. One with lasting importance established the Ombudsman Program. Zumwalt believed that the Navy was losing its best and brightest because many of the best and brightest were also husbands whose wives had career aspirations, as well as aspirations for a richer family life. With the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973, there was no longer a draft and people had more choices about enlisting or re-enlisting.
Over the next decade, other support programs were added. The staff transformed from an active duty and volunteer staff to a diverse mix of full-time employees that included civilian service (GS), non-appropriated funds (NAF) and contract employees. In 2001, the name was changed from Navy Family Service Center to Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) to emphasize that the mission of the center was to support the Sailor and the family.
In 2002, the FFSCs incorporated a new lighthouse logo and theme line: “Meeting Your Needs, At Home, At Sea.” The new logo was designed to give the centers a uniform identity at naval bases around the globe. Today, this lighthouse logo still beacons the doors of centers worldwide.
SUBASE FFSC Director, Barbara Ross, joined the SUBASE FFSC team in 1992 and has participated in many of the changes that have occurred over the years. She says, “Today families are center stage once again as the Navy Family Framework strengthens the role of a new generation of Navy families. They are key to executing the Navy’s mission and the submarine service’s role in maritime superiority. The FFSC continues to provide the right services, at the right time and in the right format to support Sailor and family resiliency.”
Today there are 81 Fleet and Family Support Centers with hundreds of professionals supporting the fleet, family and fighter with services and programs throughout the globe. For more information about the Fleet and Family Support Center, visit Building 83 (South) or call weekdays at (860) 694-3383.