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US Troops Get Fewer Jets, More Counseling

HOLLIE PAVLICA is a family counselor with a broad smile and a soothing manner of speech.

Her office is bright, designed to make an adult and a five-year-old feel equally comfortable. One could easily forget the room is on Spangdahlem Air Base, home to several squadrons of US Air Force fighters and bombers in southwestern Germany.

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Ms. Pavlica wears no uniform, yet she may be among the most important people working at Spangdahlem. She has to make sure military personnel can concentrate on their jobs.

''Our people need to be as productive as possible, and the best way to do that is to take care of their families,'' Pavlica says. ''Military productivity goes way down if there's an abuse situation.''

American families across the board have felt the strain of a tighter economy, and are seeking more counseling than in years past. The military started offering counseling services in the late 1970s, as the armed services themselves were just starting to recover from the Vietnam War. The need for family counseling at US bases in Europe, such as Spangdahlem, may be greater now than ever.

Since the cold war, responsibilities of US forces in Europe have kept climbing, despite the end of the Soviet threat. Budget cuts make troops do more with less. Military forces have been spending more time on far-away missions, separated from their families.

The increased workload has strained family relationships among enlisted personnel in particular. Commanders are devoting more attention to preventing family tension from interfering with performance. Pavlica says her program budget has grown slightly, even though the US military in Europe has downsized dramatically the past few years.

''We've got to take care of quality of life,'' says Gen. James Jamerson, the Air Force's European commander.

Air Force squadrons based both at Spangdahlem and at nearby Ramstein Air Base are involved in a variety of missions, including Operation Provide Promise, which ferries much-needed humanitarian aid into war-torn Bosnia; and Operation Deny Flight, designed to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnian air space.

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The missions require officers and enlisted personnel to spend up to a third of the year away from their home bases. ''The people who suffer most are the families that are left behind,'' says Col. Jim Crouch. ''When I go away I may worry, but it's my family that really feels the separation.''

The Air Force's Family Advocacy Outreach programs, such as the one run by Pavlica, are geared at prevention -- easing the separation strain before its disturbs family harmony. They also try to promote solutions once familial problems have arisen.

''Temper Taming'' and ''Change Management'' are two stress-related programs run by Pavlica's office. Others show new parents how to care for an infant.

Twenty years ago, such counseling programs might have had a hard time winning official approval. But today the biggest obstacle is getting people to participate. Not all personnel know about the services, and even if they do, they sometimes worry taking part will reflect poorly on their military records. Such concerns are unfounded, counselors say.

''Our biggest challenge is making sure the word gets out,'' says Howard Harshaw, chief of family programs for the US Air Force Europe. ''Nothing will be perfect, but these programs have eased the burden.''

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