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Soldiers, families improve Army life



Article  
Soldiers, families improve Army life
[2/11/2009]

Source: by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affains

Soldiers, families improve Army life


by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affains                                                                                              


ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Arriving from garrisons as far away as Korea, 117 delegates came together last week to discuss issues, listen to subject matter experts provide background information on new and old issues, and ultimately make the Army a better place for families to call home through a process called the Army Family Action Plan.

The U.S. Army has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the creation of AFAP since Aug. 15. On that date in 1983, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. John A. Wickham, wrote a ground-breaking white paper titled “The Army Family” which identified the need for the Army to increase support to its families.

Gen. Wickham and his staff asserted that a healthy family environment allows Soldiers to concentrate more fully on their mission.

In 1983, the Army was transforming from an organization of conscripted and short-term enlistees comprised of mostly unmarried military members (with a 10 percent re-enlistment rate) to an all-volunteer, professional force consisting of more than 50 percent married personnel.

 “We’ve come a long way from a time when the Army said, ‘If you’re married, you can’t join. If you get married while in the Army, you can’t re-enlist’,” said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren to the AFAP delegates made up of Soldiers, family members, wounded warriors, retirees and delegates representing Army families.

“The all-volunteer force required us to think very differently about many aspects of the Army and certainly family support,” Geren said.

At the first AFAP symposium, the attendees identified 65 issues. Over the past 25 years, AFAP has dealt with a total of 633 issues.

The work groups deliberated on issues last week under the headings of Benefits and Entitlements, Facilities and Housing, Employment, Force Support, Family Support, and Medical and Dental. The Family Support, Medical and Dental work groups were divided into two work groups each because of the volume of issues they were discussing.

Over 90 percent of AFAP issues are resolved at the local level, with more than 61 percent of the active issues impacting all sister services. Since 1983, AFAP has resulted in 107 changes to national legislation, 154 revised Department of Defense or Army regulations and policies, and 173 improvements to programs and services.

Currently, according to Tricia Brooks, the HQDA AFAP Issue Manager, there are 435 issues completed, with 118 unattainable, 75 still active, and five issues combined.

“Leaders trust and support AFAP because the members provide real-time information that enables commanders to respond more rapidly to resolve problems, implement good ideas and guide policy formation,” said Brooks.

“The average length to resolve an issue is three years,” Brooks said. “Last week, eight workshops discussed 64 new issues and two were picked at each workshop after deliberation. This means 16 new issues will enter into the Department of Army AFAP process and will be assigned to members of Army staff, who will develop an Action Plan and ultimately resolve the issue.”

“The top five are just a sub-section of the 16 that were brought into the AFAP by delegate prioritization,” said Brooks. “They are just like the other 11 entered into AFAP, the only difference is that the top five will be on the June 2009 AFAP GOSC (General Officer Steering Committee) agenda to identify the actions and plans to resolve them.”

On Tuesday, the General Officer Steering Committee took 23 of the 75 of the active issues (GOSC meets two times a year with 25 of the issues reviewed each time) to decide the status for each issue: Completed, Unattainable or Active.

Attendees at the meeting included senior officials from the Department of Defense, the members provide real-time information that enables commanders to respond more rapidly to resolve problems, implement good ideas and guide policy formation,” said Brooks.

“The average length to resolve an issue is three years,” Brooks said. “Last week, eight workshops discussed 64 new issues and two were picked at each workshop after deliberation. This means 16 new issues will enter into the Department of Army AFAP process and will be assigned to members of Army staff, who will develop an Action Plan and ultimately resolve the issue.”

“The top five are just a sub-section of the 16 that were brought into the AFAP by delegate prioritization,” said Brooks. “They are just like the other 11 entered into AFAP, the only difference is that the top five will be on the June 2009 AFAP GOSC (General Officer Steering Committee) agenda to identify the actions and plans to resolve them.”

On Tuesday, the General Officer Steering Committee took 23 of the 75 of the active issues (GOSC meets two times a year with 25 of the issues reviewed each time) to decide the status for each issue: Completed, Unattainable or Active.

Attendees at the meeting included senior officials from the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and representatives from Army Staff and Army commands.

The GOSC closed nine (7 were completed and two were unattainable) and concurred with entering two OCONUS issues into the AFAP.

On Jan. 30, following the conclusion of the conference, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff will post a summary of the meeting at Army OneSource, on the AFAP page.

At the conference opening session, Geren thanked the delegates for “…bringing these issues up as you have over the last 25 years (and) making sure your voices are heard. I thank you for making the greatest contribution to the cause of freedom. Our nation owes you a great debt,” Geren said.

“The Army of today doesn’t look like the Army of 1973 in so many ways. You have helped to make the Army work for Families.”

Delgates from around the world winnowed down hundreds of suggestions at the 2009 Army Family Action Plan conference to recommend senior leaders address 16 new issues. Of those 16, five were chosen as the most important, and the General Office Steering Committee will begin addressing them during their next meeting.

The top five issues are:


Bereavement Permissive Temporary Duty (TDY)

A military leave category for bereavement does not exist.Multiple permissive TDY categories exist but none authorizes non-chargeable bereavement leave. Soldiers take chargeable leave or a pass in the event of the death of an immediate Family member. Responsibilities associated with the death of a Family member may require more time than accrued leave or a pass. Insufficient time for grieving the loss of a Family member and administering responsibilities impacts the Soldier/Family’s ability to mourn and recover from a traumatic loss.

The recommendation sent forward to Army leadership was to establish a permissive TDY category for bereavement.

Official Photographs for Soldiers


Official photographs are not required for all Soldiers. The Army only requires an official DA photograph at certain grade levels. In the event of a Soldier’s death, there is no official photograph available to the media that provides a professional head and shoulder view of the Soldier with individual achievements.  Personal photos have been used in the media to identify Soldiers, and inappropriate or grainy photos do not accurately reflect the professionalism of the Army or the Soldier. Having an official photograph on file for all Soldiers would ensure Soldiers are portrayed in a dignified and respectful manner.

The recommendation sent to Army leadership is to mandate a professional-quality official or semi-official head and shoulder photograph for all Soldiers.

Secure Accessible Storage for Soldiers in Barracks


A significant number of Soldiers residing in barracks lack sufficient secure, accessible storage for their Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment and personal items. The quantity and size of required issue items has increased dramatically due to personal safety items issued for deployments. Though newly constructed billets include accessible storage areas, the vast majority of existing barracks still lack this essential capability.  Lack of sufficient secure accessible storage outside the Soldiers’ authorized living space negatively affects their quality of life by forcing them to live in overcrowded conditions.

The AFAP delegates recommended to Army leadership that the garrisons provide secure, accessible storage space for Soldiers’ OCIE in a location separate from living space.

Shortages of Medical Providers in Military Treatment Facilities (MTF)


Demand for healthcare exceeds provider availability in MTFs. The Army’s projected growth will increase this demand. Statutes limit salaries, incentives and contracts, limiting the effective recruiting and retention of medical providers. The lack of providers affects timeliness of medical services, and impacts Soldier medical readiness and the health of family members and retirees.

The recommendations to Army leadership were to expedite staffing of military, civilian, and contracted medical providers to support prioritized needs as identified by the MTF Commander, and to implement new strategies for recruiting and retaining medical providers for MTFs.

Availability of Standardized Respite Care for Wounded Warrior Caregivers


Standardized respite care is not available to all Wounded Warrior caregivers. The lack of availability exists due to inconsistencies in areas such as:  information, reimbursement, policy, personnel, and location. Caregivers of Wounded Warriors commonly suffer burn-out and compassion fatigue. A Soldier’s ability to sustain activities of daily living is directly associated with the well-being of the caregiver. The lack of availability of standardized respite care for these caregivers jeopardizes the caregiver’s stability and negatively affects the recovery of his/her Soldier.

AFAP delegates forwarded a recommendation to Army leadership to provide uniform availability of standardized respite care to all caregivers of Wounded Warriors.

The Army staff will identify the actions/plans necessary to determine how these issues are resolved, and ensure those actions take place if it can. AFAP issues require an average of three years to resolve. Many require policy changes at the Department of the Army or Department of Defense level, and some issues require legislative changes in order to come to a resolution.

The GOSC meets two times a year to review the progress and status of current AFAP issues.


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