Army families: Strength behind the soldier 

11/1/2009 

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, reaffirmed the Army’s commitment to its military families and its continuing dedication to meeting family needs of an all-volunteer force that has been engaged in eight years of persistent conflict.

Casey, along with Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, re-signed the Army Family Covenant before a 600-person audience, mainly comprised of over 500 family readiness group leaders from around the country at the first family forum of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Before he invited feedback on the effectiveness of its family programs from the audience, Casey cited changes that the Army has made to support its soldiers and families. Today, the Army has 44 active brigade combat teams compared to 33 in 2004. The increase in the number of personnel has allowed the Army to move closer to its objective of lengthening the time at home between deployments for its active duty, reserve and guard troops.

Two years ago, the Army also doubled its budget for family programs. It has been able to sustain the higher level of funding to continue to provide a broad array of programs and services for soldiers and their families.

"We are much better postured now than we were two years ago to accept an additional commitment of active forces," Casey said, Oct. 5 referring to the possibility that more troops might be called for in the near future to serve in Afghanistan.

Casey asked his audience to vote with a show of hands on its satisfaction with the Army’s effectiveness in five areas: standardizing family programs and services across installations, increasing accessibility to quality health care, improving soldier and family housing, providing excellent schools, childcare and youth services, and expanding educational and employment opportunities for family members.

The Army’s ability to help family members with their education and employment received the most positive reaction from the audience.

"We’re moving; it’s a jagged line, but going up," was Casey’s summation of the audience’s feedback on the Army’s delivery of its family programs and services. "We’ll just keep pushing it," he said.

Sheila Casey, whose remarks preceded her husband’s, also stressed that families are the Army’s first priority. She noted that First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, a Blue Star Mother, both have shown great support for military families. The audience, mostly military wives, clapped and cheered warmly when Mrs. Casey told them that military family caregivers needed to find time for themselves to create balance in their lives.

Lynn S. Heirakuji, deputy assistant for personnel oversight, reported on the preliminary results of a large-scale survey that examined how well the Army provides programs and services to geographically dispersed personnel.

More than 5000 survey respondents indicated that they did not find large gaps in the services offered by the Army for military families, but that greater awareness of and access to programs is needed. As the distance from installations increases, the difficulty of obtaining information also climbs for military families, especially guard and reserve families, who are often unsure whether or not they are eligible for Army programs.

Although the Internet is proving to be a boon for geographically dispersed families, important sites for military families such as TRICARE and Army One Source were reported to be confusing and difficult to use.

"Face-to-face contact is preferred," Heirakuji said.

Kathleen Y. Marin, director of installation services, recently conducted town hall meetings at six sites to ascertain what programs are making a difference for Army families and where improvements in services need to be made.

She found highly valued programs included: deployment respite childcare, military family life consultants and the Strong Bonds program. Echoing Heirakuji’s findings, town hall participants said they prefer one-to-one, confidential and personally targeted services. They particularly wanted to see improvements in the online registration process for children and youth services.

Marin, along with Brig. Gen. Allison T. Aycock, installation management command, and Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, family and morale, welfare and recreation command, conducted a mini town hall meeting at the conclusion of the day’s military family forum. Their responses to audience members’ suggestions and comments will be posted at http://www.myarmyonesource.com/default.aspx.