Delegates take on issues affecting Army families
September 9, 2011
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Being assigned to an Army ROTC battalion can seem like being stationed at some distant outpost.
There is no commissary. No exchange. And in some cases, the nearest primary care physician -- at least one of the TRICARE network -- is more than 30 miles away.
Life within the collegiate confines poses a host of unique challenges. Just ask those who spent much of this week on Fort Knox examining issues with widespread Cadet Command impact as part of the Army Family Action Plan Conference.
About two dozen people from across the country came together, huddling over three days to draw up ways to tackle issues affecting Cadet Command as a whole. Among the participants were cadre, family members and Cadets, collectively representing the eight brigades that make up U.S. Army Cadet Command.
Their goal: Review nearly two dozen issues raised by those in the field, condense them to a handful of priorities and offer recommendations for improvements.
The ideas the participants devised won't immediately resolve the problems they tackled. But their input did immediately get the attention of the command's leadership.
Participants were divided into two groups during the conference, with each outlining potential solutions Friday on a variety of issues to Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Cadet Command's commanding general, Command Sgt. Maj. Hershel Turner and Col. Greg Dyekman, the command's chief of staff.
In applauding the efforts of the participants, McDonald said the groups' work was particularly beneficial to the command in helping prioritize problem areas. But that's not to say those missing the cut will be ignored.
"We'll take all of the issues and work them," McDonald said. "Some of them we can solve. Some of them we can't, and we'll forward those" for consideration at levels above Cadet Command.
The groups focused on issues involving several areas -- family support, community services, dental, medical and force support. However, all of them dealt with hardships -- some physical, some financial.
A couple of topics covered cost of living rates for Soldiers and civilian personnel at campuses.
For instance, a number of cities that are home to battalions aren't included on the Department of Defense's list of high-cost areas, despite being high-cost areas. The issue has pushed some cadre and staff at those schools to reside farther away from campus, where home prices and other expenses are cheaper. While they find relief financially, staff and cadre must endure longer commutes and time away from their families.
The group recommended that the list be expanded to include areas that currently aren't recognized as high-cost locales.
They also suggested that Cadet Command foot the bill up front for cadre and staff to park at their schools -- a charge levied by most schools -- rather than requiring them to pay $300 out-of-pocket and receive reimbursement for cost incurred beyond that. The command could pay all fees directly to the university and issue cadre and staff parking passes that they would be required to return before heading to another assignment, said Maj. Melvin Carr, a member of the Wheaton (Ill.) College Thunder Battalion who represented 3rd Brigade.
In the medical arena, the group advocated for the elimination of co-pays for some prescription medication required of active duty personnel who are part of the TRICARE Prime Remote health care plan and for expanding the network of TRICARE providers to give families more widespread access to care.
The proposals could end up with a positive impact beyond simply alleviating hardships.
"Those benefits may convince them to stay in the Army," said Douglas Hamberger, a sophomore Cadet with Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Two issues of particular importance to Melanie Galinger were co-pays and one to give additional compensation to families who can't benefit from typical installation services such as commissaries, childcare and medical facilities. The wife of Maj. William Galinger, the professor of military science at the University of Cincinnati, said such changes would be advantageous in areas where low-cost options don't exist.
"Who wouldn't want more money in their paycheck, or less coming out of their pockets?" she said.
Issues for consideration at the Army Family Action Plan Conference were solicited for several months earlier this year from throughout the command.
Brigades selected conference participants, and attendees were chosen based on criteria to ensure diversity. Organizers wanted to ensure a cross-section of men and women, whites and minorities, officers and enlisted personnel, civilians and Cadets.
AFAP, as it's commonly called, is an Army-wide initiative aimed at improving the quality of life for Soldiers and their families. Cadet Command is unique in that it widens the net to include civilians, Cadets and their families, said Christy Eplee, the command's Soldier and Family Advocacy Program coordinator.
AFAP conferences throughout the Army are known for spurring change. Soldiers' ability to now transfer GI Bill educational benefits to family members surfaced in such a meeting, said Tina Helmick, Cadet Command's Well-Being Program manager.
Eplee and Helmick are confident changes related to issues discussed this week will be enacted.
"It takes time," Eplee said. "It's a lengthy process, but an appropriate process to result in change."