Top enlisted leaders share views with Congress
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WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 -- Improving housing and child care, giving better access to health care and education, and intervening earlier in high-risk behavior are areas the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are focused on to maintain a high quality of life for servicemembers and their families, the services' most-senior enlisted leaders told Congress members yesterday.
"The quality of life airmen and their families receive is an overwhelming factor in how long they will serve," Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy told the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee during the hearing about quality of life in the military.
Roy was joined by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent.
Each enlisted leader described the operational tempo of their services, its demands on their servicemembers and families, and the programs and support their service gives to sustain a high quality of life.
All four services have been meeting recruiting and retention goals, the enlisted leaders noted, and some said bonuses have been critical to that effort, especially for hard-to-fill job specialties.
For example, West said, the Navy has had challenges in recruiting active-component physicians, and physicians, chaplains and dentists for the Navy Reserve.
West also described the hardship the services endure by operating under a continuing funding resolution. Congress has yet to pass the fiscal 2011 budget and has averted a government shutdown by extending continuing resolutions since the budget year began Oct. 1.
Because the resolutions restrict new spending, he said, the services have curtailed new construction and other projects and have had to reallocate funds to cover "must pay" items such as pay and benefits.
"The Navy does not have sufficient manpower funding to allow for normal lead times for sailors to receive permanent-change-of-station orders," West said. As a result, he said, average notice has been reduced from six months to two months or less.
"This places great emotional and economic stress on sailors and their families," he said. "In today's economy, there is a great possibility that if they own a house, they will not be able to sell it or have enough time for the spouse to be able to find a job. Our Navy families affected by these constraints are often forced to live apart.
"The impact of Navy's permanent-change-of-station funding level is being felt across the force, and will continue until funding is resolved," he added.
The enlisted leaders highlighted programs they plan to continue in the next budget year to reduce stress in the force, such as:
-- Increasing servicemembers' "dwell" time at home between deployments
-- Building resilience and extending resilience training from new recruits to the end of service
-- Expanding suicide prevention and awareness programs
-- Training commanders to intervene on high-risk behaviors such as speeding on roadways and binge drinking, and helping servicemembers and families recognize and stop high-risk behaviors
-- Continuing to support wounded warrior programs
-- Extending sexual assault prevention and training
The services continue to struggle with a shortage of behavioral health specialists, but are working to hire more, the enlisted leaders said. The Marine Corps is working to identify Marines who have had at least three deployments as being at risk for stress-related problems and to allow commanders to offer help, Kent said.
Citing the value of quality-of-life programs in recruiting and retention, the enlisted leaders highlighted several areas of focus, including:
-- Increasing child care capacity on installations
-- "Respite care" for caregivers in families with special-needs members
-- More liaison officers to work with public schools on behalf of military children
-- Improved housing, especially in terms of bachelor housing, and more privatized housing
-- Outreach to civilian communities to help military families
-- Extending help to separating servicemembers in obtaining civilian jobs