Sylvia E.J. Kidd
Director, AUSA Family programs
Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, and his wife, Sheila Casey, emphasized the Army’s ongoing commitment to its families at the first military family forum at the Association of the United States Army’s 2010 Annual Meeting and Exposition.
They also spoke about the continuing stresses that military families face after nine years of multiple deployments and the efforts that the Army is making to help families develop resiliency, while simultaneously striving to lengthen the amount of time between deployments to give soldiers and their families time to reintegrate and rebalance.
Over 800 people, mostly spouses and many family readiness group leaders from around the country and some overseas installations, attended the first forum Oct. 25.
The audience, the largest for a military family forum to date, required overflow seating in an additional room with a live video feed.
"For me, the Army family is not something we say; it’s something we believe in and want to work toward each and every day," McHugh said.
Mrs. Casey focused on the topics of support and balance for military families. She said she found comfort herself by tapping into the Army community when her younger son was deployed to Afghanistan. She advised caregivers and spouses to take care of themselves first, so that they could provide balance for their soldiers and children when needed.
"Families are our number one priority," Mrs. Casey said, but Army family support is a constantly evolving process that requires input to shape.
"You have a voice," she advised military families. "Use it. It will be heard."
Gen. Casey reiterated his commitment to military family programs and invited feedback to eliminate redundancy and channel money into programs that are really needed. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Army has been aiming since 2007 to lengthen the amount of time between deployments because research has shown that it takes at least two years, and perhaps closer to three, to recover from a 12-month deployment, Gen Casey said.
An increase of almost 100,000 soldiers over the past three years and the drawdown of troops in Iraq to 50,000 have made it possible to achieve longer dwell times. By next year, based on what we know today, he said, active duty soldiers will have two years at home between deployments and the guard and reserve will have four years.
Before Gen. Casey conducted his third annual informal forum survey, he encouraged the audience to take the online Comprehensive Soldier Fitness assessment for family members and then work through the modules on physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family strengths designed to build resiliency.
To date, over 830,000 individuals have taken the online survey.
The Army is in the process of adding more master resilience trainers to expand the program at installations.
When Gen. Casey asked for the audience’s evaluations by a show of hands on the Army’s delivery of services, feedback varied widely from positive to negative to so-so, although Casey summed up the responses as somewhat better than last year’s. We have to keep shining a spotlight on the issues to fix them and you’re our flashlights, he told the forum attendees.
Following the three featured speakers, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, Maj. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz and Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter participated in a hot issues panel.
Lynch, commanding general of the Installation Management Command, described himself as the "family first general." Lynch said he wants to know: "Are we doing the right things? Are we doing things right? What are we missing?"
Jones, commanding general of the Army Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, talked about the Exceptional Family Member Program that serves soldiers who have family members with special education and medical needs.
Ninety-two percent of the people who use the 30-year old program are highly satisfied, but the much-needed program is little known. System navigators have been hired and training programs instituted to help soldiers and their families use the program and its services.
"We have to treat family support as one Army, not separate components," said Stultz, commanding general of the Army Reserve. The three pilot Army Strong Community Centers that he and his wife conceived are serving members of all branches of the military, both active and reserve and their families, who live away from larger military installations where support is available.
Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said that it is an obligation to provide services to geographically dispersed, especially as the need has grown. This year, the suicide rate in the National Guard is twice as high as it was last year.
The forum concluded with a video presentation given by Daniel Nichols, executive director of Inova Health System’s Military to Medicine. The program helps place veterans and their spouses in health care careers.