Family Readiness Group helps Soldier’s threatened family, gives peace of mind

Update: The Britto Family Received a Grant from the California Military Family Relief Fund that enabled them to move to a safe location.

When their beloved dog J.J. died after being poisoned, the Britto family knew it was time to move.

Sgt. Gilbert Britto knows the value of good battle buddies, not only in the field, but also at home. Britto deployed in October to the Middle East, where he can’t keep a close watch over his wife and five kids.

A few months after he deployed with the California National Guard’s 640th Aviation Support Battalion, the family’s neighbors in San Diego’s City Heights community noticed he was gone, his wife Yolanda said, and the family started getting “non-stop” break-ins.

“They were trying to break in even though they knew we were in the house. It was scary,” she said. “The cops were out [to our house] seven times in less than two months. And right after the cops left, they would try to break in again, that same night.”

Yolanda was grateful for the help of her brother, cousin and other family members who slept at the house to protect them, along with the vigilant eyes of the family’s two boxers, including 150-pound J.J., who was a great watchdog and deeply loved by the family.

But the neighborhood crime element didn’t feel the same way. To them, J.J. was an impediment to their criminal objectives, and he had to go. J.J. got sick one day, and the family suspected he had been poisoned, but he eventually recovered. Then it happened again.

“He was on the floor, breathing heavily, and he was foaming at the mouth. His eyes were glossy, and he was choking,” Yolanda remembered with a heavy heart. “We were trying to give him CPR because he was struggling — he was dying — but he just passed right in front of us.”

A necropsy would later show J.J. had been poisoned.

When he died, Yolanda and the family were devastated, “broken” at the loss of their beloved pet, and terrified by the violence carried out against their family.

Just at that moment, “when my dog passed and I was having a bit of a breakdown,” Yolanda received a text message from Ian Tolentino, a family assistance specialist for the California National Guard.

Tolentino had reached out to Yolanda at least once a month since Gilbert deployed, to check in on the family and see if they needed help in Gilbert’s absence. Tolentino had been in contact with Yolanda just the day before, when she told him everything was fine. He only followed up again to offer her Padres baseball tickets.

“I’m a pretty strong wife, and I try to use the resources available to get by or do it on my own, so I would tell him, ‘I’m OK. I’m alright,’” she said. “But he texted me at the right moment that day, and I was like, ‘You know what, I am not OK.’

“I told him every single thing that was going on, and Ian said, ‘I’m getting on this right now.’ It was just such a blessing.”

Yolanda and the kids spent one last night in that rented house, and the next morning, the troops arrived. Five Soldiers showed up, some with food, some with moving boxes, and started the process of relocating the family to Gilbert’s parents’ house.

“We really have a lot of stuff, and I didn’t have many people who could help me move. But we were not going to stick around anymore,” Yolanda said. “When they poisoned my dog, to me, that was a threat on my family.”

Over the next four days, 12 Soldiers, whom Yolanda called “guardian angels,” helped move the family’s belongings to their new, temporary home and into storage. One Soldier loaded up his truck and trailer for a trip to the dump, where he paid the disposal fee.

“I kept telling [Yolanda] to relax, get some sleep and spend some time with her kids. Let us handle this,” said Staff Sgt. Donovan Greer of the 330th Military Police Company, who led the team of volunteers. It didn’t take long for Gilbert, halfway around the world, to find out what his fellow Soldiers and family assistance personnel — whom he didn’t even know — had done for his family. And he wanted them to know how much it meant.

“Fighting terrorism while my family is being terrorized and my dog being murdered is something that only God could give the amount of strength and clarity needed to deal with in the appropriate manner,” Gilbert told Tolentino in an email from overseas. “Thank you for your quick actions. Within a few short days, I went from zero focus, high amounts of stress, sadness and anger, to gradually having it dissolve each day as the National Guard worked and protected my family.”

When Gilbert reached out to Greer, the MP said that the care he provided the Britto family is what Soldiers should expect from each other.

“I told him that if I was [deployed], I would want the same thing — not only want, but expect,” Greer said. “[Yolanda] had gotten a call every month from Family Assistance, but she overlooked it because she didn’t think anything could be done. They did not anticipate this type of support from the military.”

Now that they know this type of support is available, the Britto family is spreading the word to other Guard members and families. They also are seeking financial assistance from the California Military Department Family Relief Fund to cover the lost security deposit on their rental house. Over the past 10 months, the fund of charitable donations has given a total of $190,000 to 25 Guard families facing unexpected bills.

“I knew family assistance specialists and Family Readiness Groups were important; I knew they helped,” Gilbert told Tolentino. “But I was not prepared for the amount of help my family would receive and how quickly this could be organized and have Soldiers on the property. “My family is safe now, and I can focus on my mission here,” he added. “With the National Guard’s help, I’m now mission-capable.”

Gavril Britto, 3, lost his best friend, boxer J.J., in March after the dog was apparently poisoned by San Diego criminals when Gavril’s father, Sgt. Gilbert Britto, was deployed.

Gavril Britto, 3, lost his best friend, boxer J.J., in March after the dog was apparently poisoned by San Diego criminals when Gavril’s father, Sgt. Gilbert Britto, was deployed.