By Staff Sgt. Joel Pena May 23, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum officials and more than 80 Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers representatives from across post gathered May 15-16 at the Nash BOSS Center to conduct the 2nd Annual BOSS Conference.
Launched in 1989, the BOSS program supports single Soldiers by working to improve their quality of life and to ensure that their voices are heard in all processes.
"We need you here because BOSS is all about the voice of the Soldier," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Oldroyd, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser. "We need all the experience we have in this room. If you discuss, take part and give of everything you understand and listen to everybody else, we are going to make the Army better, and what's more fulfilling than that?"
The mission of the BOSS program is to enhance the morale and welfare of single Soldiers, increase retention and sustain combat readiness. BOSS is the collective voice of single Soldiers through the chain of command, which serves as a tool for commanders to gauge morale regarding quality-of- life issues.
Additionally, BOSS sponsors a variety of activities before, during and after deployment to maintain the morale of single Soldiers affected by increased operational tempo and deployment stress.
After opening remarks by Oldroyd and Sgt. Francisco Bernardino, BOSS president, representatives were divided into six working groups to talk about quality-of-life issues.
Work groups, led by Army Community Service volunteers, covered sexual harassment, suicide prevention, good nutritional habits, mental readiness, living space and personal resiliency. After discussing how these six areas affect quality of life and morale, each group would come up with suggestions, which later they presented to the command.
At the end of the first day, Col. Mark W. Thompson, MEDDAC commander, spoke to Soldiers about quality of life. Thompson focused on the idea of wellness. What is wellness, and what does the health care system feels wellness should look like? He also spoke about responsibilities and cultural changes.
The second day of the conference started bright and early with the BOSS PT Challenge. At the end of the challenge, Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team claimed top honors.
During the rest of the morning, groups continued working in their areas. After each focus group finished compiling their concerns and recommendations, they chose a representative to brief post officials.
In the afternoon, each group's representative gave recommendations to Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser; Melissa Townsend, wife of Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander; and all command sergeants major and first sergeants present.
Issue: Basic allowance for sustenance option for single Soldiers.
Soldiers may not choose between a meal card and BAS. As a result, they are not able to consume the quantity and /or quality of food to meet their physical, religious and/or medical needs. This impacts Soldiers by decreasing their performance, morale and overall well-being.
Recommendation: Soldiers should be given a choice between meal cards and BAS, and the BAS amount should be put on a card that can be used either at the dining facility or the commissary.
Issue: Quality assurance in dining facilities.
Dining facility meal options do not reflect the high performance needs of service members, and that 45 percent of meal card holders do not use the DFAC on a regular basis. Those service members pay out of pocket for higher quality, more nutritious meals and/or face unhealthy dietary choices from fast food establishments or forego meals altogether.
Recommendation: Assign a dietician and nutrition care specialist (68M) to each brigade to oversee the food production / purchase / quality assurance and to exceed the current standard of food and drink selection and food preparation at the DFAC.
The group also was concerned that Soldiers don't receive proactive nutritional classes. The group recommended mandatory nutritional classes during Sergeants' Time Training on a quarterly basis offered by a subject-matter expert and optional healthy cooking classes through all BOSS representatives to all service members.
Issue: Sexual harassment.
The group voiced a need for external Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention instructors. They said SHARP instructors within the unit inhibit honest communication and that sexual harassment remained a problem due to ineffective training.
Recommendation: Provide external SHARP instructors for mandatory training.
The group also said that mixed groups inhibit open and honest dialogues. The group recommended open forums separated by gender and rank, after SHARP training, to encourage honest communication.
Issue: Mental readiness and bullying.
There is no specific advocacy program in the Army to address and prevent bullying. Bullying includes inappropriate jokes or jabs based on physical limitations, soldiering skills, rank, lack of experience, personal issues, background, upbringing and demographics that are not covered under Equal Opportunity or SHARP.
Bullying transcends rank, gender, age and military longevity; furthermore, it leads to hostile work environment, Soldiers acting out (i.e. suicides and substance abuse), domestic violence, lower morale, and a drop in retention and level of mental readiness.
Recommendations: Develop a system that provides an outlet and resources for Soldiers with issues or concern regarding bullying; to expand the EO program to include an hour of awareness and prevention class; and expand the master resiliency trainer's role to assist in strengthening mental readiness for those affected by bullying by working with them on a one-on-one basis to provide tools for enhancing self confidence.
Issue: Soldiers' living spaces.
Soldiers are not allowed to personalize their space with paint; personal furniture is allowed but space is limited; and roommates are assigned with no freedom of decision.
Recommendations: Allow Soldiers to paint and provide furniture for their living space of their choosing and expense; to be able to choose their roommates when availability allows; and to be notified 24 hours in advanced before anyone entering their rooms, to exclude health and welfare inspections.
Issue: Suicide prevention.
Recommendation: Create a program to assist commanders in developing battle buddy relationships and communications skills.
After listening to the Soldiers' issues and recommendations, command sergeants major gave their feedback on what they could do to improve the quality of life of single Soldiers on post.
"I had a lot of fun meeting new people," said Pfc. Kiernan Donahue, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment. "The command seemed genuinely interested in the issues that were presented, and they seemed really receptive to getting something done with the problems single Soldiers have."