Conference targets Army family issues 


Sylvia E. J. Kidd
Director, Family Programs

The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Family Programs attended the annual National Army Family Action Planning (AFAP) Conference held at the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 11 – 15.

AUSA family Programs has been a proud sponsor of the AFAP conference for a number of years, and we continue to be strong supporters for this program which is one of the Army’s most successful efforts involving delegates from all components of the Army as well as family members, retirees and Army civilian.

We were able to visit workgroups and listen as delegates determined the group’s most important issues and then developed a recommendation for the Army leadership to consider when addressing the problem.

Since its beginning 25 years ago, AFAP has produced a significant number of positive changes for not only soldiers and family members, but also for those serving in other branches of the armed forces and their family members because many solutions often require changes to military policies or regulations.

AFAP’s mission is to help Army leaders address the needs and concerns of the total Army Family and also improve the standard of living for soldiers and their families as well as retirees and Department of the Army civilians.

The program enlists representatives from these groups from around the world who then come together to identify and prioritize issues that have come from installations and National Guard and Army Reserve commands throughout the Army.

These proposed solutions are then provided to Army leaders during the final event of the conference. The solutions may result in changes that eventually become tangible end-products across the Army community.

One of the main events of the AFAP conference is the General Officers Steering Committee (GOSC) where senior officers and program leaders are briefed on selected issues which have been an ongoing part of the AFAP process to conclude if the issue has been completed or if additional work needs to be done.

Issues often remain in the AFAP process for a number of years before they are resolved or deemed to be unachievable. A great deal of work is done before an issue is determined to be unachievable and even then it may again re-enter the AFAP process after three years if it is determined to be of significant importance.

A total of 22 issues were briefed during this GOSC, 15 remain active and seven were designated as completed.

A total of 82 issues originating from local AFAP conferences over the past year were entered into the 2010 national AFAP to be considered by delegates. 

The subject matter covered a wide range of concerns such as Exceptional Family Member Program enrollment for reserve component soldiers, the availability of 24/7 child care within the child, youth and school services delivery systems; supplemental mission funding for reserve component readiness groups and active duty family members’ prescription cost share inequitability.

Nearly 100 delegates then brainstormed the original 82 issues and determined which of those that would have the most impact. The issues were then narrowed to the final 16 concerns considered to be of the highest priority.

The secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and the Army chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey, addressed the delegates and AFAP supporters and assured them of their continued dedication to implementing programs and meeting the needs of an Army and its family members whom they acknowledged were stressed by continuing deployments and family separations.

McHugh told the audience, "It is your good work, passion and love that give us the focus to what we want to do to care for you."

On the final day of the 2010 Army Family Action Plan conference, delegates voted on their top five issues, three of which involve services for wounded or ill warriors.

The top five issues are:

Provide a monthly stipend to ill/injured soldiers for non-medical caregivers

Fund service dogs for Wounded Warriors

Provide for behavioral health services shortages by increasing the number of readily available  behavioral health providers and services and the use of alternative methods of delivery such as tele-medicine

Authorize family readiness groups to fundraise in public places external to National Guard armories, Army Reserve centers and military installations

Authorize reserve component soldiers enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program

The delegates also voted on the five most difficult mobilization, deployment and family readiness challenges for the Army and concluded those were the high suicide rate; the length of deployments; the impact of deployments on children and youth; the duplication of programs and funding issues for family and deployment programs.

However they also selected five programs or services that they felt were the most beneficial for mobilized and deployed families.

These strengths are Army Community Service (ACS) to include AFAP, Army Family Team Building (AFTB), outreach and counseling services; the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program; chaplains programs such as Strong Bonds and unit ministry; the Army Family and Community Covenants and morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) programs such as Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS); fitness and other recreation programs.