U.S. Army Alaska examines Soldier, family programs
February 1, 2011
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - U.S. Army Alaska is taking a close look at the many programs which address the health and wellbeing of its Soldiers, civilians and family members.
There are well more than 100 such services at JBER and Fort Wainwright combined, according to W.R. Southard, USARAK strategic planner, who heads a team studying how that array of programs can best benefit the USARAK community.
The Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Assessment Team (not to be confused with the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program) aims to develop a strategy to optimize "USARAK's approach to promoting health and improving quality of life," in the words of its purpose statement.
That strategy, according to Southard, should ensure programs are geared to:
- promote resiliency;
- reduce risk;
- support USARAK strategic objectives;
- have the greatest impact across the population served.
The team is looking at services ranging from the Army Substance and Abuse Program to the Arctic Oasis family recreation facility - in short, just about any program that provides any form of social support, assistance, counseling or morale activity to the total USARAK community.
There are three phases to the group's study, which started with a tally of all the programs currently operating.
The team is in its second phase, assessing the top 40 of those programs on JBER and on Fort Wainwright.
"We have assessment teams out there right now," Southard said.
Four teams at JBER - two for each brigade, made of up Soldiers, spouses and Department of the Army civilians - and four similar teams at Fort Wainwright are examining the programs with a combination of research, customer feedback and metrics, and interviews with program managers.
They'll use their findings in the third phase to develop a two-year strategy "that optimizes USARAK's approach to promoting health and improving quality of life," Southard said.
The HP/RR/SP Report
The USARAK study was born of discussions at the command's annual off-site conference in September, according to Southard. The Army had just released the Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention, or HP/RR/SP, Report and the subject dominated conversation there.
The report represented the Army's ongoing campaign to promote resiliency in a force that has been at war for nearly a decade. Although it focused on the more immediate problem of suicide, it also encompassed many other aspects of Soldier, family and civilian wellbeing.
It also called on organizations across the Army to ensure their social support programs were meeting the needs of their people.
"It was determined after reviewing [HP/RR/SP Report] that there are a tremendous amount of programs on our installations that support service members and family members," he said.
But with so many programs available, Southard said, it was less clear whether they were reaching their intended populations, and how much Soldiers and family members actually knew about them.
To help answer those questions, the USARAK Deputy Chief of Staff's Office surveyed Soldiers and learned that, although there are many programs to support Soldiers and family members, few service members knew much about them.
USARAK Commanding General Brig. Gen. Raymond Palumbo directed the DCOS Office to look at all the programs in U.S. Army Alaska, at JBER and Fort Wainwright, determine how they're doing and what can be done to optimize them, according to Southard.
The resulting Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Assessment Team has representatives from each of USARAK's brigades, from the hospitals at JBER and Fort Wainwright and from the installation commands of JBER and Fort Wainwright.
"That's the planning team - what we call the tiger team," Southard said. "They're the ones doing all the work and analysis and planning and coming up with this concept."
The team's strategy will aim to provide a comprehensive, integrated approach to promoting health, reducing risk and preventing suicide among USARAK's Soldiers, civilians and family members, according to Southard.
Part of that integrated approach involves knowing how and when certain programs should be emphasized.
"We realized that the number of programs have expanded to meet needs," Southard said. "But now these programs need to be optimized, synchronized and focused to when the need is greatest," Southard said. "If we can synchronize all of these programs and link them to supporting the ARFORGEN cycle (The Army's process for managing the force and ensuring its ability to support operational demands) it's going to benefit everybody," Southard said.
As an example of effective synchronization, Southard pointed to the high-risk period historically associated with the months following a unit's return from deployment.
"We know that one of the most dangerous times when Soldiers redeploy is the 30- to 90-day window after they get back," he said. "That's a good time to use our resources, like the Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education Program, or CATEP. If we focus that to training beforehand, or making sure leaders know the asset's out there, then maybe we can prevent some of those problems."
Pre-deployment is another time to pool the appropriate resources, according to Southard.
"Before deployments there have to be a lot of things happening with the family readiness groups to prepare families for the separation," Southard said. "And, of course, there's a lot of things that Soldiers have to do before they deploy. If the right resources can be synchronized to support [the deployment], like the Family Readiness Groups or [Army Community Service] pre-deployment briefs, that's going to be more beneficial."
While those support resources are typically emphasized during such times, Southard's team aims to ensure they're working together in a coordinated effort to reach all the Soldiers, civilians and family members who need them.
"The end state for the two-year strategy is, instead of all these programs going in different directions, they're working in unison," Southard said. "The bottom line is: if the Soldiers and families don't get the support they need, then we're missing the goal of the entire command."