Army Steps Up to Challenges Supporting Families

Did you know that the Army Family Action Plan celebrated it's 25th anniversary this month? Recently, I was invited to participate in a Bloggers' Roundtable put on by the Department of Defense (DoD) designed to differences the Army Family Action Plan has made in the lives of Army families since its inception 25 years ago.

The Bloggers Roundtable provides source material for stories in the blogosphere concerning the Department of Defense (DoD) by bloggers and online journalists. Where available, this includes transcripts, biographies, related fact sheets and video.You can access the transcript and mp3 audio file of this roundatable by visiting the DoDLive webpage.

Among those involved in this particular Roundtable was the Secretary of the Army, Mr. Pete Geren. I have had the pleasure of meeting Secretary Geren in person as well as participating with him in a previous Roundtable and this time was no different. He introduced the topic by saying that this was
an important opportunity for us to look back on 25 years of the Army Family Action Plan. General Wickham initiated this with a -- with a very prescient white paper that he wrote 25 years ago, and did an extraordinary job of looking into the future and laying out for us the challenges we would face, as an Army, as we moved further into this century.

And the Army, over the last several years, has been stepping up to this challenge, making -- doing everything we can to provide Army families a quality of life that's comparable to the quality of their service. But we recognize there's more to do, and the great folks that are with us today are some of those that are helping us respond to the needs of families and helping us understand the needs of families.

There were several of us on the panel and some very good questions were posed. In particular I asked how the Army manages to strike a balance between the family-life programs that AFAP has been so good about pointing out the need for versus actual military funding. Because, let's face it, as wonderful as those programs are, my overriding concern as a military spouse is the safety and welfare of my husband - that he have the best equipment and training available to him so that he can not only do his job well but also stay safe and come BACK to us when he's done.
Secretary Geren responds:

Anytime you have to live within a budget you have to make hard choices. There's no doubt about it. Always the first priority of our Army are the men and women in harm's way. We can never take our eye off of that ball. That's got to be where every day you wake up, what can we do for the men and women that are in harm's way and do everything we can. Now, that doesn't mean that you can ignore other important aspects of the life of the Army and family support is a huge part of that, and over the last couple years we've more than doubled support for families. We've worked hard to move those family support programs from the supplemental -- (inaudible) -- into a -- to the regular budget and into our five-year budgeting cycle and have been successful because we recognize how important that is.

But I can assure you that we never take our focus off the men and women who are in harm's way. That is our top priority. But an important part of supporting those men and women in harm's way is making sure the families have the support that they need, and General Wickham 25 years ago wrote that the family support is a readiness issue. If you are in harm's way and you're having to worry about whether or not your children are in good schools or the housing (they're in that it be safe ?), their neighborhoods are safe, it's going to impact readiness. So just from a readiness standpoint family support is critical. But our commitment to family goes beyond that. We believe we've got a moral commitment to the families. They're volunteers just like the soldiers are and they're carrying a big part of our nation's burden particularly during these very challenging times. But your point is well taken. We can never take our eye off the ball of the men and women whose lives are on the line for us. We've got 250,000 soldiers in 80 countries around the world today (varying ?) threatening environments and we -- that is our obsession.

In addition to my question, there were some phenomenal questions from the other panelists. One question had to do with PTSD/TBI (post-traumatic stress disorder/traumatic brain injury) support for the spouses whose loved ones are dealing with these issues. And not only is there support for spouses in these situations but also is there any kind of effort being made to connect these spouses WITH one another for added support?

Another question focused on the servicemembers that do not have spouses but DO have families (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) that want to be involved and crave the information that has traditionally been reserved for spouses.

One participant asked how the DoD and the VA were planning on handling the "bubble" of servicemembers that have gone through the military service and what the plans were to help with the transition from military to civilian life.
These roundtables are a wonderful way to be able to bring issues to the forefront of a discussion with people involved at some of the highest levels of decision-making within the military and the Defense Department. I would encourage you to go and either read the transcript or listen to the audio archive of the discusison. And, should you have questions that were NOT addressed, please feel free to post them in the comments and I will do my best to bring them up should I get the chance.

Cross-posted at Military Connection.


- hfs

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