Fort Monroe AFAP earns praise for 'Big Army' ideas
March 6, 2009
- Fort Monroe AFAP delegates propose PX benefits for DA Civilians
- 'BAS with dependents' category could benefit larger families
FORT MONROE, Va. - The overall Army Family Action Plan may be celebrating its silver anniversary this year, but Fort Monroe AFAP coordinator Janine Johnson believes the installation-level AFAP event conducted here Feb. 17 to 19 yielded gold.
"(The conference) is always a labor of love for our volunteers," said Johnson. "And this year, they really got the concept that this is about the whole Army."
Johnson said four work groups, including one comprised solely of Fort Monroe youth, tackled a myriad of topics with great success. Every issue reported out to local leadership will be elevated to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command AFAP conference, scheduled for this summer. "The delegates worked beyond their own demographic, and the results were very positive," she noted.
Historically, issues get a "first look" on day one of the conference, but this year, coordinators tried a slightly different approach.
"We held four sensing sessions prior to the actual AFAP," said Johnson. "We brainstormed issues outside the conference, and were then able to put forward questions to our subject matter experts ahead of time." Johnson thinks this allowed the delegates - all volunteers - to focus more fully on the heart of each issue in the short time they had together.
Johnson said this also marked the first year Army Community Services coordinated directly with Fort Monroe Retirement Services to reach potential delegates off-base; a partnership both directorates hope to nurture and grow.
"Oh, this was a very positive experience," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kelly Alford, who retired from the Army in 1978. "You might say for an old Soldier like me, it was exhilarating!"
Kelly's working group took to task the issue of extraordinary stress experienced by today's Soldiers and their families. The challenge, as explained to TRADOC's Deputy Commanding General, Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, and Fort Monroe Garrison Commander Col. Anthony D. Reyes during the Feb. 19 out brief, is that there is no single point of contact at the "small" Army level to facilitate coordination of available stress-related programs.
The group recommended creating a dedicated position for a single, company-level point of contact to act as a liaison between Soldiers and numerous resources for stress management.
"The stress on returning warriors impacts not just the Soldier, but also the family and even the community as a whole," said Alford. "We fought the process to the last word and we still didn't want to give up until we got it right; until it was really ready to go Army-wide."
Here are this year's other AFAP recommendations, arranged by broad category:
Grant DoD civilian employees user privileges in all AAFES facilities.
It was noted that DoD civilians already are offered right-to-use privileges for Family Morale Welfare, and Recreation (FMWR) services. Adding AAFES to the list, the group argued, not only would acknowledge DoD civilian contributions as members of the Total Army Family, but also would increase funds generated by the five percent surcharge that go toward supporting DFMWR programs and activities.
Implement a degree-based tuition assistance program for DoD civilians.
Delegates maintained that a tuition assistance program comparable to what's available to Soldiers would improve the professional development and stability of the DoD workforce.
Develop a system to ensure equitable deployment of Soldiers within the same Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).
The group asserts that a percentage of Soldiers experience multiple deployments more frequently than others within the same MOS. These Soldiers return from overseas deployment, and then find themselves on permanent change of station (PCS) orders to a different unit already in pre-deployment status.
They are held stateside until their dwell time (currently, 12 months, but projected to increase to 30 months by 2011) is met, and then are sent forward to join their deployed unit. The delegates believe that multiple deployments of this nature cause excessive financial, emotional and marital stress on these Soldiers and their families.
Expand Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) to include a Dependent category.
Delegates maintain that a "BAS with Dependent" category would minimize reliance on assistance programs, improving overall quality of life. The current BAS does not offset the increased cost of subsistence for family members.
Create a standardized, Army-wide transferable special needs assessment form for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).
The work group reported that non-medical EFMP information currently does not convey between installations, compelling families to start from scratch upon each PCS move.
In addition to the transferable assessment form, the group recommends mandating that, Army-wide, the installation EFMP coordinator be included on each Soldier's in- and out-processing checklist.
Augment Child Development Center (CDC) outdoor play areas with prefabricated, modular indoor playgrounds.
Delegates believe Army CDCs lack adequate alternatives to indoor physical activity. Army regulations require CDCs to offer daily outdoor activity; not always possible because of inclement weather.
The group cited studies demonstrating children are "smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier" when they have frequent and varied opportunities for free and unstructured play. Prefabricated, modular playgrounds, they assert, would be cost-efficient and help guarantee daily physical activity.
Establish a Youth Readiness Group Program modeled after the Family Readiness Group (FRG) structure.
Youth delegates maintain that current FRGs are geared more toward spouses or entire families. They say without a dedicated support group, children don't have an outlet for challenges caused by deployments, PCS moves or family distress.
Create a youth-oriented Web link on installation Web sites.
The delegates report that comprehensive information on youth-oriented activities, schools and off-post attractions is not consolidated on installation Web sites. They assert that information is difficult to find, and making it available in one place would help military youth better prepare for PCS moves.
Improve the promotion of youth interaction on Fort Monroe.
Youth delegates feel there aren't enough resources used to promote youth interaction on the installation, and information marketed on behalf of the Youth Center does not reach all eligible Fort Monroe youth. They recommend the creation of a shared roster of all youth affiliated with the installation, emailing a Youth Activities calendar to these youth and posting it to the DFMWR Web site.
Fort Monroe leaders praised the rigorous efforts of the more than 80 delegates, recorders, issue support people, subject matter experts, and coordinators.
"It's an honor and a privilege to live and work on a military installation," said Col. Reyes. "The only thing that maintains our standard of living is the work that's being done right here, just as it's being done across the Army."
"We are all in the same boat on this," agreed Lt. Gen. Valcourt. "There are certain things you look forward to on a military post. This is one of them. Folks here are making a difference.
"We are asking our families to do a whole lot," he continued. "That's why I think AFAP is so darned important right now. And I didn't hear anything here that was geographically centric only to Fort Monroe. Every issue we teed up here is important to Big Army!"