Family input improves Army life
November 21, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Sixty-one delegates, dozens of subject matter experts and countless volunteers spent three intensive days identifying, researching and prioritizing issues at the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) conference Nov. 13-15.
The AFAP is an Armywide program that allows all members of the Army including active duty, Reserve components and National Guard, retired military, family members and civilian employees, to identify issues of concern that impact the well-being of the entire Army family.
Through this process, all members of the Army have a forum to voice concerns to Army leadership and make recommendations for change.
Issues are submitted by community members and gathered to be considered by the delegates at the conference.
Issues requiring actions are prioritized, assigned to a lead agency for resolution and an action plan is established to achieve desired change.
The 2012 AFAP kicked off with Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, speaking to those gathered.
"It will be a lot of hard work and long hours, but the results will be worth it because the changes that come out of this conference will make life better for the military community," he said. "Leaders trust and support AFAP because the issues provide real-time perspective that enables commanders to respond more rapidly to resolve problems, implement good ideas and guide policy formation."
The delegates and facilitators broke into four workgroups: force protection, medical, consumer services and facilities and began working on the 49 issues submitted throughout the year to the AFAP.
Twenty-eight subject matter experts stayed in the facility, ready to answer questions, explain processes, and identify services and programs to the workgroups.
Spc. Cory Raines, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, said he had never been involved in an AFAP before and didn't know what it was until 20 minutes into the initial briefing.
"I left thinking it was really interesting. I had wondered how things were done, and now I know it is through the AFAP process, which I believe can make a big difference -- not only at Fort Sill, but across the military," Raines said. "I was with the medical group and it was really hard to decide as a group what issues to take on. It gave me a new understanding of how things work in the military."
Raines and his wife are dual military so he has a different perspective on military life, but he still learned a lot during the conference, he said.
"The thing that surprised me most during this conference is the lack of programs we have available on and off post to help dependents deal with deployments for one or more family members. They have to go out to the local community, and it comes out of pocket. We found out that this is already an active issue being worked now to bring it in as part of the benefits," said Raines.
"I would recommend everyone get involved in the AFAP because the topics discussed do affect you and your family. It has been a really great learning experience and mind-racking to make sure each topics got our full attention and we looked at all sides of the issues," said Raines.
"The workgroup members really worked together and became a team. One person could start a sentence and another could pick up right on cue and finish the sentence. It's something great that I didn't know about until last week. I've learned so much and have a new understanding of affecting policy and changing things in the military," he added.
On the final day of the conference, the delegates broke from their individual working groups and voted on the top five issues. They briefed those issues to the command group at the out brief.
The top five issues are: inaccurate Basic Allowance for Housing calculations for service members; prompt access to primary medical care for patients; TRICARE benefits for learning disabilities; commissary privileges for disabled veterans; and availability of "parent supervised" areas in installation fitness centers.
McDonald closed the conference by speaking to the delegates.
"It wouldn't have happened without the organizers, the subject matter experts, the family readiness assistants and you. Thanks to everybody for pulling it together because this really will make it a better installation," said McDonald.
The general added he appreciated the innovative ways delegates presented to convey various issues. Many performed skills that further clarified the problems they presented.
"I haven't seen it done that way before, but it was more entertaining than most sometimes it's kind of dry, but it wasn't at all today," said McDonald with a laugh.
"We listened very carefully to the top issues you briefed but we know you have other issues you ranked them all and worked them very carefully. So it's not about the select few we saw today we're going to take them all. We'll solve some and some we won't be able to attain, but we will work them all because there was a lot of hard work done here. This will be a yearlong process for us to work through all these issues. I want to thank the leaders who were all here taking notes. They are committed to getting you answers. I told you before this started that we know everything's not perfect so we'll take these issues and look at them very carefully and we'll figure out how we can work through these and get the things corrected where we can. I want to thank you again for taking your time to help us make Fort Sill a much better place."
The issues from the AFAP conferences help to elevate the standard of living for Soldiers active, Reserve component and retirees, family members, survivors and Army civilians.
"The Army Family Action Plan conference was a team effort," said Laurie Batule, Army Volunteer Corps program manager. "Delegates, subject matter experts and volunteers worked together to make sure this was a successful effort."
According to Batule, the fact that the Army is willing to listen to what is going on in the total Army family, and address and implement these issues shows that individual voices are being heard.
"Our leadership is listening to what we have to say, and there are other changes that will be coming down in the future," she said. "It does take a little while some changes they can implement right away and others might take an act of Congress. But the one thing that is clear is that your voice is being heard. If you truly want to make a change to improve our quality of life, you have to submit it as an issue. That's the only way it will happen."
According to the AFAP organizers, more than 90 percent of AFAP issues are identified and resolved at the local installation level, and more than 61 percent of the issues worked at Department of Army level impact all services.
"The Army is saying we're listening to you and this is how we're going to do it. The AFAP is a tool for the Soldiers and families and other members of the total Army family to give the Army input, to ask for change and to inform the leadership of concerns and issues," Batule said.
Since AFAP was created in 1983, there have been 117 legislative changes, 162 Department of Defense or Army policy changes and 178 improved programs or services/funding.
Examples of AFAP successes are the creation of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) Program, establishing school liaison officers, development of Army Family Team Building, and an increase in military annual leave carry over.
Although the local 2012 AFAP is over, concerns or issues can still be submitted for the 2013 Army Family Action Plan Conference online at www.myarmyonesource.com.