“On the phone I’m completely anonymous.” Abbie Hammond is one of Fort Drum’s best listeners. I met Abbie the first weekend I was in town and she invited me to post where she works as a FRSA. I asked her what keeps her going through all the difficult times. “Oddly enough, it’ s the lowest points,” she said.
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Abbie Hammond responds to the needs of Army soldiers and families at Fort Drum, sometimes without people ever knowing who she is.
Abbie Hammond gets a lot of phone calls. Her phone rang as we sat down for an interview in her Fort Drum office, but she let it ring. It’s the phone number that circulates on Army handouts, the papers soldiers and their families get when they deploy. Many times people call her because it’s the only number they can find.
“On the phone I’m completely anonymous,” Hammond said. Some may remember her name after they call, but most don’t. Her number might be the only contact soldiers’ parents have.
Once she had a Dad call her, worried whether his son was safe. “He said ‘I know my son’s OK, but I had a bad dream.’ So, and I talked to him for probably an hour, just to reassure him,” Hammond said. Without knowing for certain he was OK, she had to assure him and walk him through the panic. She’s often the one who handles people in panic.
Abbie is a FRSA, a Family Readiness Support Assistant at Fort Drum. A description of her job includes countless duties — all of them with the aim of supporting soldiers and their families. She distracts spouses while their soldiers are deployed, plans homecoming ceremonies. She even sets up video conference calls with families.
“I’ve had to apologize to soldiers because their wives didn’t make it,” she said. “Sometimes they’re just like ‘I just need to talk to somebody,’ so, ‘How are ya?’”
While some may never learn her name, others have her on speed dial. She described a soldier and his wife who she became particularly close to: “When his wife found out she was pregnant with their third one I was the third person to know,” she said, smiling. “She told me before she told her own Mom. She brought me breakfast to tell me that they were going to have a baby.”
Abbie’s been doing this for over 10 years. She’s also been married to a solider, now retired, for more than double that.
Some of the soldiers she works with are the age of her own children. And she gives them relationship advice. Should they get married. Should they stay together. It’s all her job.
“One of the NCOs introduced me to his mom, he’s like, ‘She’s like our battalion mom.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t you forget about it,'” Hammond said.
Abbie described the lowest point of her job, the call that she never wants to get. “When you get that call that we’ve lost one down range. Or that one has died here and we gotta make the plans and the arrangements, that is the absolute lowest point of this job.” Oddly enough, she said, what keeps her going are the absolute lowest points. “Because there’s always going to be that one that you can maybe save. That one that you notice might need a little bit more support.”
Abbie seems to sense things before they happen—that’s her job. We stepped outside and on to the windy airfield on Fort Drum. “I can smell the snow coming,” she told me. I agreed that I could, too, even though I’m not really sure I could.