By Sarah Pacheco, Hawaii Army Weekly, U.S. Army Garrison-HawaiiNovember 27, 2013
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (Nov. 22, 2013) -- "Your role, as delegates, is to let leadership know your top concerns and issues," said Mele Stender, program manager, Army Family Action Plan 2014, in her opening address to the individuals seated at the Main Post Chapel Annex, here, Nov. 13.
"You, as delegates, represent the different demographics of the Army community, and your job is to give a voice to that group," Stender emphasized. "You guys are the keys to change."
Clearly, serving as an AFAP delegate is no small task.
Delegates are Soldiers, retirees, Department of the Army civilians and family members who volunteer (or are "volun-told") to identify and prioritize issues that will improve the standard of living in the Army through the yearly AFAP conferences.
This feedback to leaders results in policy changes that become tangible end-products at garrisons across the Army.
"The Army doesn't know what to fix unless it knows what's not working, and the AFAP conference isn't just about shining light on what's not working; it's about coming up with potential resolutions," explained Stender, who serves under the Army Community Service; Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
"Just because it's always been that way, doesn't mean it has to continue that way," Stender said.
AFAP is the Army's primary tool to communicate to leaders issues of importance and ways to improve the well-being of the overall Army family.
What began 30 years ago as spouse action groups now is a year-round process that covers all Army demographics to resolve issues at either the installation or Headquarters-Department of the Army level.
"You have relative strangers, with different backgrounds and different values, all coming together and working together for a common goal: to make improvements to the Army," said Stender.
"It was fun how a diverse group could come together on issues," agreed delegate 1st Lt. Melissa Dabney, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th Combat Avn. Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
"I knew nothing about AFAP until I became a part of it this year," Dabney added, "but I would definitely recommend the experience to others."
Over the course of two-and-a-half days, last week, delegates converged in their respective work groups (which cover areas involving family support and employment, housing and facilities, medical and dental, and force support, benefits and entitlements) to review issues and concerns submitted by the USAG-HI community.
In addition to the delegates who attended the conference, numerous volunteers worked behind the scenes as facilitators, recorders, subject matter experts and issue supporters for the five different AFAP work groups.
"I love working with other ACS staff members and the volunteers," Stender said. "Some had been through the AFAP conferences here in the past, and so I drew from their experiences -- what worked, what didn't. Everyone pulled together; I had so much support, that although it was a little chaotic, with the support, it was a smooth process."
The conference concluded with a Report Out at the Nehelani, Nov. 15, during which a representative from each work group presented senior leadership with an outbrief of the two issues his/her group felt to be of highest importance.
"Most of the issues that were submitted can be resolved at the local level, and I think the same issues come up each year -- more spaces for children at Child Development Centers, traffic safety around schools, issues involving youth sports groups schedules -- but the (issue) that really stood out and that I think will continue on to (be addressed by) big Army is children with type 1 diabetes in the CDCs," Stender said. "There was a really good discussion after it was presented, and Brig. Gen. (Todd) McCaffrey was very interested in this issue."
"I applaud your efforts to make a difference," said McCaffrey, deputy commander-support, 25th ID, to the delegates following the Report Out.
"It's your voice that helps us identify the cracks and seams and helps us prioritize," he noted. "AFAP, as a process, has had a remarkable impact on our community and families."
To date, AFAP has identified 683 issues Army-wide, which has driven legislative changes, Army policy and regulatory changes, as well as improved programs and services, including the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Temporary Lodging Expense, Earned Income Tax Credit and Servicemen's' Group Life Insurance.
"To see the process in action -- delegates discussing, resolving and coming up with a scope for two issues -- was the main focus throughout conference," Stender said.
"It's about making a change,"^she concluded, "and it's voices being heard from different walks of life throughout the Army family and making an improvement."
The Army Family Action Plan 2014 conference for the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii prioritized the following issues:
•Traffic Safety -- Hale Kula School Zone;
•Visibility/Transparency of Oahu Commissary prices;
•Active duty Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) in privatized housing;
•Soldier As Out-of-Pocket Expenses at Schofield Barracks Inn;
•Admissions wait times for scheduled surgeries at Tripler Army Medical Center;
•Malpractice at military medical facilities;
•Limited Child Development Center services for preschool children with type 1 diabetes;
•Wait time for child care services;
•Skate parks on Schofield Barracks; and
•Healthy teen relationships.
To view issues that have been submitted, resolved, remain open or have been closed, go to www.myarmyonesource.com and select "Army Family Action Plan" under the "Family Programs and Services" tab.
To get involved in next year's AFAP conference and make a difference for families Army-wide, call (808) 655-1703.