Dwell time: AFAP tackles drill sergeant stabilization
December 9, 2010
This is the first of a series of articles about issues selected during the Fort Jackson Fiscal Year 2011 Army Family Action Plan conference.
AFAP is an Army-wide program that provides a forum for Soldiers, family members, retirees and DA Civilians to voice concerns and recommend solutions to Army leadership.
During Fort Jackson's conference, workgroups of volunteer delegates narrowed 39 quality-of-life issues to seven top concerns and presented the issues and recommended solutions to the garrison commander and commanding general.
All seven issues will be forwarded to the TRADOC AFAP Conference in the spring, when representatives from TRADOC communities will review and prioritize all TRADOC issues and send the top concerns to the Headquarters, Department of the Army AFAP Conference, where delegates will decide possible solutions to quality-of-life issues for all Soldiers, family members, retirees and DA civilians.
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- In spring 2008, just as Staff Sgt. Bradley Good was preparing to return to the U.S. from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, he received notice that he had been selected to attend the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School. Upon completion, he would serve two years as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson.
His boots hadn't even landed on American soil yet, but Good was already mentally preparing for the move, and more important, how he was going to tell his wife and four children that even though he was returning, he would soon be leaving them again.
"It was hard on him," said his wife, Sandra, as she recalled the day he told their children. "He had to tell the kids, 'Daddy was gone, now he's home, but he'll be gone again within a few months."
The staff sergeant had arrived at Fort Stewart, Ga., with fellow Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division on May 1. He began his 90-day stabilization period, spent time with family and friends, and started making arrangements to get to South Carolina by his Aug. 1 report date.
"When he got home, he really didn't have much down time," Sandra Good said about her husband's return. "He had (reintegration) classes to take, he was getting used to being back, adjusting to life with the family, and then boom, he was gone again."
His family stayed behind at their home in Georgia while the Soldier completed nine weeks of drill sergeant training. In October, he returned to Georgia to uproot his family and move them to Fort Jackson, where he was assigned as a drill sergeant for Company B, 120th Adjutant General Battalion.
"It was tough," Sandra Good said about moving their children, one of whom has asthma and allergies, another who is diabetic and a third child who is autistic.
"We were breaking their routine," Sandra Good said. "They had to start all over again at a new school. (Moving) is hard for any child to adjust, but it's especially hard for children who have special needs."
For many drill sergeants at Fort Jackson, the Good family's story is all too familiar.
Many Soldiers are ordered to attend Drill Sergeant School too soon after a deployment, Sandra Good said. And worse, many are redeployed too soon after leaving Fort Jackson once they have completed their two-year drill sergeant assignments, she said.
"I know families who have left Fort Jackson and within weeks of getting to their new duty stations, (the Soldier) is on another deployment," Good said. "As a family member, I feel there needs to be a change. There needs to be longer dwell time and stabilization time before and after deployments."
Sandra Good was one of many Fort Jackson community members who voiced concerns about Soldier dwell time at the Fiscal Year 2011 Fort Jackson Army Family Action Plan conference Dec. 2-3 at the Officers' Club. There, workgroups of volunteer delegates narrowed 39 quality-of-life issues to seven top concerns and presented the issues and recommended solutions to Col. James Love, garrison commander, and Maj. Gen. James Milano, commanding general.
The issue of dwell time became a hot topic after delegates performed a skit, bringing to life three snapshots of events common to drill sergeants: a return from deployment, drill sergeant duty and leaving for another deployment.
In the re-enactment, the workgroup's spokesperson, Maj. Daniel Middlebrooks, an instructor with the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, described images of a happy family celebrating the joyous return of their Soldier, that same family persevering through sacrifices made during grueling and draining drill sergeant duty and a final picture of the family as it loses hope and falls apart just as the Soldier deploys again.
"Three simple pictures, but they express more than a thousand words from Soldiers coming into and leaving out of Fort Jackson as drill sergeants," Middlebrooks said.
"Drill sergeant duty is a professionally demanding assignment that impacts Comprehensive Soldier Fitness," he said. "This includes the family, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social dynamics of Soldier readiness. The cycle of concern here is deployment, drill sergeant duty, deployment ... . If victory truly does start here, we need to be victorious in stopping the cycle."
The workgroup concluded the Army's current 90-day stabilization policy does not provide redeploying Soldiers adequate time for reintegration prior to attending Drill Sergeant or Recruiting School.
"Soldiers don't have adequate time to readjust to their family or work environments prior to attending these very demanding types of schools and stepping right into those demanding responsibilities. It adversely impacts their mission performance and personal readiness," Middlebrooks said.
It also adversely affects the Soldier's family dynamics, he said.
"If you are preparing to leave again, do you truly engage and connect with someone that's about to say goodbye once more'" he asked.
The workgroup recommended revising Army Regulation 614-30 to increase stabilization following deployments from the current mandate of 90 days to 180 days for Soldiers on orders to Drill Sergeant or Recruiting School.
"An additional 90 days would mean (the Soldiers) would have at least six months, or 180 days, before actually attending a school," he said. "That would give them time to reintegrate with their families, get back into the social environment and do the things they need to do prior to going to school."
The workgroup also recommended that a policy be implemented for Soldiers coming off of drill sergeant duty to ensure they receive 12 to 15 months of reset time, or a recalculation of dwell time for drill sergeant duty at a reduced rate.
The workgroup's policy would allow Soldiers to be protected by Human Resources Command through an identifier that allows them to leave their drill sergeant duty and have some time to reset or stabilize with their families before deploying with their next unit, he said.
Love and Milano both said they thought the issue of dwell time, for both before and after drill sergeant duty, was worth forwarding to TRADOC for consideration for the FY '11 TRADOC AFAP Conference in the spring.
"I understand the issue," Milano said. "It is tough duty and no doubt about it, the drill sergeants are working their tails off. I do think there's merit. The big Army would have to figure out how to do this, but I do think it's worth sending up."