FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 21, 2013) -- In a world where mass communication offers endless ways to express oneself, it's easy for voices to get lost in the fray, but one Army program allows the people's voices to be heard by those who make decisions.

Fort Rucker held its Army Family Action Plan Conference Nov. 13 and 14 at the Wings Chapel to get the issues and concerns of the people on the installation directly to Army leadership, according to Shellie Kelly, AFAP program manager.

"AFAP is a grass-roots program that gives the total Army Family a voice in identifying, prioritizing and then communicating its quality of life issues to Army leadership," she said. "They can be any issues that deal with health care, dental care, vision care, leisure activities, programs or anything that Army Families deal with."

Maj. Gen. Kevin. W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, along with Command Sgt. Maj. James. H. Thomson. Jr., Aviation Branch commanding general, attended the conference to find out what is on the minds of Army Families on Fort Rucker.

"This really is a program where you can make a difference," said Mangum during the conference. "Our senior leaders at the highest levels take this very seriously, and it's your opportunity to have an impact."

This year's conference celebrates 30 years of AFAP and 30 years of improving the life of Soldiers and the total Army Family, said Kelly, adding that this year's conference posed a challenge due to the government shutdown and being postponed for one month.

The conference was further reduced from a two-day conference to essentially a one-day conference with a report out on the following day. Despite the cutbacks to the conference, Kelly said that each person involved did a stand-up job with the time and resources they had available to them.

"The product that the workgroups came out with was outstanding, and the process that they went through in getting to that product was equally outstanding," she said.

The conference was broken into three workgroups: Retail/Leisure and Family Community, Entitlements and Force Support, and Family Support and Civilians.

Each group worked to find the top issues submitted by discussing and vetting to make sure that each issue that was submitted and to be considered would have be viable to execute. Not all issues that are submitted can be considered, and of those that are, most can be dealt with on the garrison level, according to Mangum, but those that can't are elevated to higher levels for consideration.

The top issues for each work group were: the current state and disrepair of the Parcours Trail for the Retail/Leisure and Family community workgroup; sick call and pharmacy hours that conflict with training schedules for the Entitlements and Force Support workgroup; and the continuity of treatment plans when Families PCS to another station for the Family Support and Civilian workgroup.

These were all issues that were submitted directly to Fort Rucker's leadership, said Kelly, so people can see that the time and effort they put into submitting these issues is actually seen, heard and reviewed by leadership.

Fort Rucker teenagers also had a chance to have their voices heard during a Teen AFAP conference where they were able to submit quality of life issues of their own.

"The teenagers this year were so engaged and so committed," said Kelly. "They spent a lot of time on big-deal issues."

They discussed issues from the lack of an emergency room at Lyster Army Health Clinic, to wanting to have a youth council that meets four times a year in order to have their concerns heard, which came to be their No. 2 issue. Their No. 1 issue was to see if they could have the old commissary building turned into an indoor recreational facility after the new building is constructed.

Although the program provides a voice of change for the community, the process to get change in place isn't always easy, said the commanding general.

"Many of the changes that are proposed through this process require legislative changes and changes to law -- no small deal," he said.

In the 30 years since the program has been in existence, there have been 128 changes to the law, 184 policy changes and 208 programs that have been established because of AFAP, proof that the program is working, Mangum said.

But none of that change can be made if people don't submit their issues and use the voice they have, said Kelly.

"You hear people complain all the time, but a lot of times they won't take that extra step to shoot me an email and say what the problem is, why it's a problem and what they would do to fix it," she said. "It doesn't have to be any more than that. Just take that extra step to actually tell somebody what's bothering you."

For more information on AFAP, or to submit an issue, call 255-2382.