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It could be a sudden illness. An injury. A mandatory class away from their assignment. For a Soldier far from family, where do they turn for help in taking care of their children when they cannot?

There is an answer for the military members of Team Redstone. Total Tots is a free service provided by Army Community Service that has assisted active duty service members, reservists and retirees needing short-term, immediate child care since 1986.

“Total Tots is unique to the Army. It is the only program that provides respite and emergency care without restriction,” said Virginia Dempsey, program manager for ACS’s Family Advocacy Program, which oversees Total Tots.

Founder Pam Stieglitz was the president of the Redstone Women’s Club in 1986 when she was approached by then Chaplain Bill Meyer, who had recognized a need for emergency assistance available to Soldier parents. The program has expanded over the past three decades to include help for Soldiers attending required classes, medical appointments, counseling or other essential family business. Care ranges from a few hours a week to 24-hour care, in cases of emergency.

Stieglitz said one of the hallmarks of the program is its privacy. When a Soldier requests help, the details of his or her situation are confidential and not divulged to supervisors in the chain of command.

Total Tots works with the Family Advocacy Program’s sister program, Child, Youth and School Services, to provide safe care by child care professionals.

In addition to direct requests from parents, assistance can also be requested for Soldiers by supervisors, counselors, health care professionals and chaplains. The service is free to the client and funded by donations.

Dempsey and Stieglitz said that because of its uniqueness, and the transitional nature of the Soldiers stationed at Redstone, they hope to get the word out that Total Tots is a safety net and available to Soldiers, reservists and retirees in need.

“We can provide some respite,” Stieglitz said.

Editor’s note: With Dempsey’s retirement Thursday, Total Tots will now be overseen by her successor, ACS’s new Family Advocacy Program manager Jeannie Johnston. During the transition, anyone interested in learning more about Total Tots should call Stieglitz at 533-3444 during 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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