AFAP delegates examine issues raised by families
Michelle Cuthrell/For the Northwest Guardian
Published: 01:33PM October 16th, 2008
It was 9 a.m. sharp in the Stone Education Center, and a room full of people as diverse as the Army they represented sat in chairs in the facility’s large stadium-seating style conference room.
These people, who ranged in age from what appeared to be near-20s to near-70s, looked like they could be untraditional college students. But these attendees were not students; they were volunteers, or “volun-tolds,” as Tina Fortner, trainer of Facilitator, Recorder and Issue Support teams, jokingly called them during her presentation. And their job was not to learn; it was to advise.
They were the delegates of the 2008 Army Family Action Plan conference, a conference devised 25 years ago to identify the issues of Soldiers (active, retired, National Guard and Reserve) and their families that affect quality of military life. During a day-long conference, these volunteer delegates proposed solutions to issues raised by others here on Fort Lewis that affect the global Army.
By 9:25 a.m., the group had disbanded and the crowd had separated into work groups of 10 to 15 people. Throughout the day, these small groups would sit in assigned classrooms with facilitators and recorders who would help them address pressing issues on assigned topics.
In the first conference room, a group of 12 delegates gathered to discuss issues relating to Army consumer services. In front of each was a list of 18 issues brought up by Fort Lewis related military or civilian personnel over the course of the year.
Throughout the year, Fort Lewis families are encouraged to submit their complaints and suggestions to AFAP officials. By simply completing a questionnaire (found in red boxes in most public buildings) or filling out an online form at www.lewisfamilyfocus.com at any time throughout the year, anyone on post can issue a complaint or suggestion about the post or any Army program at large, said Christine Swift, AFAP program manager.
Every comment is reviewed by an individual or board. If the complaint or suggestion relates to Fort Lewis as a post (it is local), it goes to Community First, an organization on post designed to address the needs on Fort Lewis. If the issue relates to the Army at large, it is reviewed at the AFAP conference.
As the 12 delegates reviewed the issues before them, which ranged from a poor selection of produce at the commissary to not being able to house pets in Army lodging, one delegate laughed out loud.
“This is fun!” she chuckled to herself. Her name was Tanya Brown, the spouse of an active-duty Soldier and a volunteer with the AFAP program for more years than she could count. But offering her input to effect positive Army change is not new to this long-timer. She served with the Community First program at Fort Jackson before she moved to Lewis, and she’s seen first-hand the results that take place, sometimes immediately, after these conferences.
“Seeing it happen before your eyes is really amazing,” she said.
She joined in the discussion as the 12 delegates voted on their three most important issues: flat rates for hourly care (versus rates on a sliding pay scale), lack of AKO access for widows and widowers, and high PX prices.
As the group began its debate about the importance of these issues, Swift scampered from one room to another outside.
Even though she’s only served as the AFTB/AFAP program manager for a few months, she knows the importance of such a conference.
“This is really the grassroots of change,” she said.
And it really is.
At the end of the conference, each of the five groups presented its three most important issues and recommendations to the garrison commander. Those 15 issues then move forward to the FORSCOM conference, and the top issues from that conference move to the Department of the Army conference. That means that Joe Soldier’s complaints about no dogs in Army lodging at Fort Lewis could potentially be addressed specifically by the DA this year. Fortner said that’s what it’s all about.
“This is really one of the best programs because it gives Soldiers and families a proactive voice to make positive change Army wide.”