Army Family Team Building is a shining example of one of the Army’s most successful volunteer programs. It is an educational program requested, designed, written, and instructed by volunteer family members for family members. AFTB teaches family members the Army’s culture and the life skills needed for independence and self-sufficiency. For most, coming into the Army is a cultural shock. The Army is a world unto itself with its own jargon, customs, traditions and rules. Soldiers quickly learn the ropes and codes from their peers. However, married soldiers come home speaking in riddles, often too tired to explain: "Hi dear, I had a hard day. The humvee broke down in the AO and my NCO chewed me out. When we got back, the CO pulled a surprise inspection. My LES was all messed up and we didn’t get LQA.""
In the old school, confused spouses relied on wives’ clubs, informal unit networks, and stairwell gossip for translations and work-of-mouth schooling in Army culture. Others – perhaps too shy or not speaking English well enough – struggled, often lonely and unhappy. It was not unusual to find a spouse who did not know what benefits were available to them – even something as simple as using the commissary (grocery store) and the Post Exchange (department store). It took a determined and resourceful person to get through those first years as an Army spouse.
Lesson learned from the Persian Gulf conflict made it clear that something had to be done to help Army spouses cope with the rigors of successfully maneuvering through the myriad of Army systems. The solution was the formation of Army Family Team Building in 1994. The Army recognized that the need for preparedness and self-reliance was not only important to the family members’ morale, but also to the readiness of deployed soldiers who, knowing their families were capable of coping, could focus on their mission – humanitarian, peace-keeping, warfighting, or training. The AFTB training program is progressive and sequential. In the Level I class, participants learn the basics – terms and acronyms, military culture and expectations, what their entitlements and benefits are, and what resources are available in the military and civilian communities. Level II focuses on emerging leaders within the Army community, teaching the tools they will need such as volunteer management, effective leadership, and networking with community agencies. In the advanced, Level III classes, students enhance their leadership skills. They learn how to mentor, conduct workshops, manage conflict, and build teams.
Since the first Army Family Team Building class, more than 250,000 soldiers, family members and Department of the Army civilians have attended classed taught by more than 3,500 volunteer trainers worldwide. Army Family Team Building is at every Army installation throughout the world. However, Army Family Team Building is not limited to the boundaries of the Active Army, rather, it embraces all the components of America's Army - the active duty soldiers, the United States Army Reserves, the United Sates Army National Guard and the Department of Army civilians. They work together in partnership. The needs of the family members are the same regardless of component – when a soldier is called to duty for the United States Army, all families now have the access to the tools that will enable them to cope with the challenges that may arise. Always searching to find new ways to help military families become more informed, AFTB is stretching its arms even further. Currently, in development, is an Army Family Team Building web system that’s primary purpose is interactive training for those family members who are geographically separated from traditional AFTB classes.
Army Family Team Building has broken through other barriers as well. The program has been translated into German, Korean, and Spanish to reach to foreign-born spouses. Army Family Team Building volunteers also reach out to community groups who deal with Army family members, such as schools and churches that welcome and support family members. By teaching organizations the dynamics of the military lifestyle, they can understand the challenges created by frequent moves, long separations and constant uncertainty. These classes not only highlight ways organizations can be more supportive of Army families, but also reveal the unique contributions Army families can make to organizations. In addition, the program partners with volunteers agencies such as United Way, YMCA/YWCA, local colleges and universities, American Red Cross, etc., to teach Army families and broaden their knowledge of resources beyond the installation gates.
AFTB introduced their concept to the other branches of the military by sharing their training materials. As a result, the United States Marine Corps has developed their own version of AFTB, called L.I.N.K.S.(Lifestyles, Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills). The Allied Powers Europe and NATO in Germany have formed "American Forces Team Building" and throughout the Army, teenagers are developing, being trained and offering, with AFTB instructors, a junior version of the program called "Army Family Teen Building."
As Army operations increase, the daily challenges facing Army families have become more complex. Army Family Team Building’s volunteers focus on the needs of all to make a positive influence on individual lives through education and mentoring. The program embodies the new philosophy of the Army. In the post World War II era the philosophy was ‘the Army takes care of its own.’ Today the philosophy is "the Army teaches its own to take care of themselves.’ Army Family Team Building has been designated by the Chief of Staff of the Army as the premiere spouse education program to move into the 21st Century.