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February 27, 2012
By Rob McIlvaine

ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 27, 2012) -- The annual Army Family Action Plan Conference has brought 53 delegates here this week from garrisons across the Army to discuss 51 issues important to families, wounded warriors and Soldiers.

These issues -- brought up through the AFAP process begun at the garrison level -- will be pared down over the next three days to eight, and then presented to senior Army leaders, March 2.

"As Secretary of the Army John McHugh stated at a congressional breakfast earlier this month, 'whatever challenges you face we are not going to balance this budget on the backs of our Soldiers and our families,'" said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Army vice chief of staff.

"In fact, we have doubled the amount of spending we've had for family programs over the last several years, from $600 million to $1.2 billion. I promise you, families are the nucleus of our Army and we will make sure that you are properly cared for," Austin said, adding the delegates need to make sure the Army gets it right, given the challenges faced after more than a decade of war."

More Soldiers will be returning home and staying home, he said, and many of them are suffering the effects of war: physical, mental and emotional, and will need the proper care.

"As we begin the long and difficult process of transition, we need to understand where assistance is required, and where resources may be applied most effectively."

"Two things I've asked you to do this week: I've asked you to be critical, but I've also asked you to be creative. Being critical is helping to identify the issue or problem, being creative is being part of the solution," Austin said.

The issues being worked by the four working groups this week fall under four headings:
-- Family Support
-- Medical, Dental, and Wounded Warriors
-- Personal Well-Being
-- Soldier Support

Also, during this week, the General Officer Steering Committee, or GOSC, will be working on resolving 37 issues, some of which entered AFAP as early as 2002. On Friday, members will be notified of the eight issues the working groups decide upon.

The GOSC issues at this conference fall under five major headings: Wellness and Behavioral Health (5), Civilian Employment (3), Soldier Support and Entitlements (10), Medical (10), and Family Support (9).

"We will continue to take care of Soldiers and families," said Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commander, U.S. Army Installation Management Command and assistant chief of staff for Installation Management.

"AFAP is critical to the delivery of the Army Family Covenant because it gives our Army leaders the expectations of the Army community. Through the AFAP process and this conference, you identify quality of life issues to senior Army leaders for action."

Anyone can get involved in the AFAP, he said.

"It's a program where anyone from a private to a spouse, retiree, wounded warrior, Gold Star survivors, or Department of the Army civilians can have a direct impact. Through AFAP, you can help shape the Army. What you're doing this week touches our Army families, and all Army components: active, Army Reserve and Army National Guard," Ferriter said.

One point of the AFAP conference, Austin said, is to keep as many programs and services as possible, while eliminating redundancies.

"We've been transitioning over the past 10 years," Austin said. "And because of the hard work done by people like you, our families have proven that they are resilient, our Soldiers are resilient, you have worked hard to make that happen, you have helped us create programs that are just remarkable, but we have demonstrated that as an entire force, that we are resilient, we're agile, and we're adaptive."

AFAP creates an information loop between the global Army family and leadership. Information provided through this process gives commanders and leaders insight into current satisfaction detractors, quality of life needs, and expectations of Army constituents.

Since AFAP began in 1983, results have included 126 legislative changes, 177 Army and Office of the Secretary of Defense policies changed, and 197 changes and/or improvements to programs and services.

The Army is the only military service that has instituted such a grass-roots program, yet the results benefit all branches, with about 60 percent of AFAP issues applicable across the Department of Defense.