Commentary: Army families under fire deserve thanks, support
May 14, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 14, 2009) -- We've been at war eight years and some Army family members are crying out for help through personal blogs, letters to editors and even letters to their congressional leaders.
One wife wrote to the Washington Post this month that "many military families are coming apart at the seams" and "even the strongest wives are at the end of their ropes."
Soldiers are enduring multiple deployments, some of which have lasted 12 to 15 months. Dwell time at home, between deployments, is not where we want it to be. Our Army families deserve thanks for their amazing and selfless sacrifices to our country.
Even in peacetime, Army families make sacrifices. I want them to know how much their sacrifice, during this extended time of war, will mean to future generations of Americans. This is a time of tremendous challenge and it will not last forever.
I do agree with the wife that wrote that the Army needs to adjust to focus resources where they're needed most - on mental health services and medical providers instead of new athletic facilities and bigger and better child-care facilities, although these are necessary for enhanced quality of life. Our families have asked for these athletic facilities and improved child care facilities and we have delivered on these.
I also agree that it is now necessary to take the burden off the volunteer spouses in the Family Support Groups. We have depended upon volunteer spouses to provide crucial support to the other spouses in need. We must now adjust and place that burden on paid leaders and trained leaders in the medical and social services communities.
If we were in the old peace-time Army, volunteer family support group leaders would suffice - but, after eight years of extended deployments, the time has come to take that burden off the volunteers.
In many ways, we have started to do that. In 2007, the Army moved $100 million into Family Support Programs to help hire additional full-time staff in "Army Community Services" and also to expand childcare, respite care, and youth services, all in an effort to lift the incredible stresses off of the families.
In 2008, the Army made a $1.4 billion commitment to The Army Family Covenant focused on improving the quality of life for Army Families. We are reworking future budgets to sustain this increased level of investment in our families.
Although I agree we need to do much more, there are efforts ongoing, just as I just mentioned, to alleviate stress in our families' lives.
Last year, the Army announced shorter deployments for Soldiers back to 12 months with a dwell time of at least one year back home. This is still not good enough, but is indeed an improvement. The Army has the goal of increasing the dwell time at home even more to two years between deployments and we will strive to reduce our deployment lengths as the operational requirements allow.
Additionally, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits will be transferable to spouses and family members. It is hoped that these benefits will help take some of the financial burden off of our Families and enable them to provide a quality education for spouses, the Soldier, or for children.
We are inspired that President Obama has made it a priority to convene a military family advisory board and we are looking forward to having a seat at the table.
It is clear that the sacrifices and burdens and stresses of multiple deployments have drained all of our families' reserves. We urge lawmakers to help us replenish our families. We tell our Soldiers that it is a sign of strength to ask for help. We are strong enough to ask for help. Our families deserve it.
(Editor's note: Toni DeLancey serves with Army G-1 and is a military wife of 15 years with four children. Her husband has deployed twice -- once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. Her comments are based partially on personal experience and are not necessarily the official opinions of the Army.)