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Feature Stories

NEWS | March 13, 2017

US Army Central Family Members learn about the Middle East

By Leticia Hopkins U.S. Army Central

The Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Central Family Readiness Group recently held a quarterly meeting here at Patton Hall to provide Family Members with an opportunity to learn about the Middle East.

The meeting, which focused on giving an overview of the Middle East and its culture since it is part of USARCENT’s area of operations, included perspectives from a few of USARCENT’s Soldiers’ spouses.

Susan Duffy, HHBN family readiness support assistant, said the evening was an opportunity for spouses and Family Members to catch a glimpse of, as well as, gain a better understanding of the culture because most of them are unable to go to the Middle East and experience it themselves.

The evening began with a greeting from Maj. Dominick De Fede, HHBN executive officer, on behalf of Lt. Col. Lindsay Riley Matthews, HHBN commander, who is currently in Kuwait. Attendees then had the option to sample a few Middle Eastern dishes, which included: biryani, baklava, chicken and lamb kebabs, flatbread, hummus, and tzatziki served with either sweet Turkish coffee or tea. Mementos and pictures depicting various sites were also on display for Family Members to look at prior to “touring” the Middle East via pictures in a slide show.

Three USARCENT spouses followed the “tour” by sharing their first-hand knowledge of traveling to and or living in the Middle East. Since accompanied Middle Eastern assignments are not currently the norm, these spouses are among the few who were given that opportunity.

Lorelei Garrett, spouse of Lt. Gen. Michael X. Garrett, USARCENT commanding general, spoke about what she observed while traveling to Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar with her husband in October. The purpose of the visit was to explore the possibility of having more accompanied command-sponsored tours in Kuwait. She gave an overview of what she observed, mainly in relation to the housing, schools, and satisfaction felt by spouses and families currently living in each area. 

“All (of) the spouses that I did encounter have enjoyed their time there,” said Garrett. “They didn’t say that there weren’t challenges, but none of them said ‘I wish I didn’t come.”

Sentiments that the other two speakers echoed when they spoke to the group. Judy Merrill, spouse of Col. Aaron Merrill, USARCENT international military affairs chief, spoke about the five years she spent living in Egypt and Jordan with her husband and children. While she was able to travel and meet people, some of the challenges she faced were initially making friends and some of the attention she felt received as an American living abroad.

“When we got back it was like letting out that big sigh of relief,” said Merrill. “You don’t realize you’re kind of holding your breath the whole time you’re living there—just because of the attention.”

Merrill added that although there were things that made living in the Middle East worthwhile, she felt as Americans living in the Middle East, they had a greater responsibility since they represent America.  

As for Rowaida Nasr, spouse of Lt. Col. Walid Nasr, USARCENT security corporation division Central Gulf and Greater Levant branch chief, she told the group that she initially experienced culture shock after moving to the Middle East and took a little while to adjust. But now after the experience, she would gladly accept another accompanied tour to the Middle East. 

After spending a month in Egypt with her husband, Nasr said she returned to her home in Florida, but her family encouraged her to go back and be with her husband.

“Being born and raised in the states, even though I have a Lebanese/Middle Eastern background, when I first went to Egypt, it was actually a culture shock,” said Nasr, an Orlando native who spent two and half years in Egypt and three years in Kuwait with her husband. 

She said the biggest change she had to adapt to was actually the driving style used by the Egyptians since she already spoke the Arabic language. Finding a job with the embassy, making friends, doing a lot of sight-seeing, immersing herself in the country’s culture and talking to local residents helped Nasr to adapt and enjoy the time she spent in the Middle East. 

“Enjoy your time there,” added Nasr in reference to Family Members who may have the opportunity to accompany Soldiers on Middle Eastern tours in the future. “Get out and do things. Get out there and talk to the locals … They actually enjoy Americans or foreigners coming in because they get to show them what their culture is all about.”

The FRG holds quarterly meetings to educate and empower Soldiers’ Family Members. It is also an opportunity for military families to meet other military families or simply get together and socialize with each other. 

“Happy family, happy Soldier,” said Duffy when discussing how keeping Family Members informed and educated impacts the USARCENT mission.

Duffy added that when a Soldier’s family is happy and understands what the Soldier is going through then it helps the Soldier to worry less about family life and concentrate more on the mission.

For more information about FRG volunteer opportunities, programs or events, call (803) 885-8009 or (803) 885-8039. You can also go to