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 February 12, 2010

News

Army Family Action Plan conference determines top 5 issues

By Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. — On the final day of the 2010 Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) conference, delegates broke from individual working groups and voted on the top-five issues that Army senior leaders will discuss at the General Officer Steering Committee (GOSC) meeting in June.

This feedback, they believe, can lead to policy changes that will encourage Families “to consider the Army their home.”

Overall, the conference, held Jan. 11-15, brought 82 issues originating from installation-level AFAP conferences held during the past year.

With these issues came nearly 100 delegates to whittle the original list of concerns down to the 16 considered to be of the highest priority. Resolving such problems helps to elevate the standard of living for Soldiers, retirees, Family members, survivors and civilian employees, said conference participants.

Indeed, this on-going process is considered paramount by Army leaders, especially Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

“Our challenge is to provide for Soldiers and Families as best we can,” he told conference attendees.

“Your role is essential to help us focus on implementation of these programs; to ensure they’re the best to provide what’s needed,” McHugh said.

Families, though, include children who also want a say in their own issues and they want it seen from their point of view. Therefore, accompanying the adult delegates were 13 Army Teen Panel members representing the younger Army Family.

The group, led by Anthony Merriweather, presented two posters designed for teens needing a boost in self-esteem and encouragement. The posters are a method to get teens involved in many activities developed at each garrison.

“We used a different kind of English than most of you are used to,” smiled Merriweather to the mostly adult audience. “We spoke to teens in the language of texting, a shortened form of communicating.”

The teens also presented a 30-second commercial, another method to encourage teens in becoming involved in youth centers, Armywide. The applause and cheers from senior leaders — including Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, and Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff — meant they also reached an audience who can deliver changes they want.

Before the top issues were voted upon, Casey briefed conference members on Army plans for the coming year.

“The Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and I have six major objectives for 2011. We will continue our efforts to restore balance to the Army by 2011; execute Afghanistan plus-up and responsible drawdown in Iraq; sustain Soldiers, Families and civilians; establish an integrated Army management system; implement an Army leader development strategy; and establish the Army of the 21st century.

“But the most important thing we will do is to increase the time Soldiers stay home,” Casey said to enthusiastic applause.

Other programs, Casey noted, have been introduced and running for more than a year but need to be revisited to ensure they continue to grow and gain acceptance.

“The Army Family Covenant is one of the programs that we will continue to put the right amount of funding into so that Family programs provide for all Soldiers and their Families. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, Installation Management Command commanding general, is just the man to get this job done right,” Casey said.

With $225 billion budgeted for the service this year, Casey said the funds are enough to ensure the six objectives he and Secretary McHugh developed will be met, while ensuring Soldiers are well-trained and supported.

As for the selected final AFAP issues that will all be forwarded to the senior leadership meeting in June, “I’m sure it was difficult to arrive at these top five out of the 16 ... you worked on all week,” said Ronnie Thomas, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command chief of Strategic Integrations Division.

The final issues selected to go forward are:

• Provide a monthly stipend to ill/injured Soldiers for non-medical caregivers;

• Fund service dogs for wounded warriors;

• Provide for behavioral health services shortages by increasing the number of readily available behavioral health providers and services and the use of alternative methods of delivery such as tele-medicine;

• Authorize Family Readiness Groups to fund-raise in public places external to National Guard armories, Reserve centers and military installations;

• Authorize reserve-component Soldiers’ enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program.

The remaining 11 issues will continue through the GOSC process until a determination is made. They are: standard level of security measures in barracks; availability of 24/7 child care with Child, Youth and School Services delivery systems; reserve-component inactive duty for training travel and transportation allowances; reduced eligibility age for retirement of reserve-component Soldiers mobilized in support of overseas contingency operations; extended transitional survivor spouses’ TRICARE medical coverage; active-duty Family members prescription cost share inequities; supplemental mission funds for reserve-component Family Readiness Groups; compensatory time for Department of the Army civilians; reserve-component government employees’ and their Family members’ access to TRICARE Reserve Select; TRICARE allowable charge reimbursement of upgraded/deluxe durable medical equipment; and standardization of the privatized housing application process.

But this isn’t the only list to keep Army leaders informed of what’s important to Soldiers and their Families.

When Casey served as vice chief of staff, he asked what was working in the Army and what wasn’t.

On the first day of the AFAP conference, delegates were given the task of compiling this list and then voting on what challenges the Army needed to address and what strengths they’ve accomplished.

Mobilization, Deployment and Family Readiness Strengths, determined by AFAP delegates are: Army Community Service; Army Family Action Plan; Army Family Team Building; Financial Counseling; Survivor Outreach Services; Family Advocacy; Volunteer Program; New Parent Support; Army Wounded Warrior Program; Chaplains’ Programs including Strong Bonds and Unit Ministry Team; Army Family Covenant and Community Covenant; and morale, welfare and recreation programs, including fitness, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, leisure travel, and other recreation programs.

Mobilization, Deployment and Family Readiness Challenges are: an increasing suicide rate; length of deployments; impact of deployment on children and youth; duplicate programs, such as Army Community Service and Family Assistance Centers and Support for Wounded Warriors; and funding for Family and deployment support programs.

Additionally, six critical active AFAP issues were voted on from the remaining 70 issues reviewed during a GOSC meeting also held at the conference.

While they will not make it into the June GOSC, they have been determined to be most important; as a result, Army senior leaders will continue to keep them foremost throughout the year.

The six are: military spouse unemployment compensation; reserve-component post-mobilization counseling; convicted sex offender registry; retroactive traumatic Servicemember Group Life Insurance; bereavement permissive temporary duty; and medical entitlements for college-age Family members

Summing up the meaning of the conference for delegates and attending Army senior leaders, Soldiers and Families, McHugh used a quote from the founder of the AFAP, some 25 years ago.

“As (retired) Gen. John A. Wickam, Jr. (former Army chief of staff) said, ‘The stronger the Army, the stronger the Family.’”

( See related story.)

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