By Mr. Stephen Baack (IMCOM)December 13, 2013
KATTERBACH, Germany (Dec. 12, 2013) -- U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach hosted its annual Army Family Action Plan conference Dec. 10 and 11 at the Von Steuben Community Center as part of the Army's grassroots effort to prioritize the top quality-of-life and readiness issues that face community members, and then select those issues for closer scrutiny and resolution.
Twenty-eight delegate volunteers comprising three work groups gathered to examine 51 issues throughout the two-day conference. During the the conference the 51 issues, which had been compiled from across the USAG Ansbach community throughout the year and submitted to the quarterly AFAP conference steering committee, were narrowed down and prioritized for further review.
Additionally, delegates selected the five "most critical" active issues currently at the Department of the Army level; identified the five most valuable programs and services in USAG Ansbach; and selected the top mobilization and deployment strengths and weaknesses.
In short, according to the Army Family Action Plan Issue Management System on Army OneSource, the purpose of AFAP is to provide "a way for you to let Army leadership know what works, what doesn't, and how you think problems should be resolved."
Kevin Griess, the USAG Ansbach deputy garrison commander, welcomed the work groups and encouraged them to work through any differences and focus on the task as a single team.
"We're all one Army, right? So, let's focus on the objective, which is to come up with very refined problems," Griess told the delegates at the beginning of the first day. "Let's research it and see if we can handle it at the local level. If we can handle it at the local level, we will."
Griess added, however, that this is the only forum for all members of the USAG Ansbach community through which an issue can start at the Von Steuben and make its way into the halls of the Pentagon.
"It's absolutely possible that an issue you raise here will go to the four-star, and it's possible that the four-star will propose a change in legislation or a change in regulation to handle this particular thing," Griess said.
The scenario Griess mentioned actually happened here within the last several years, according to Carolin Carson, USAG Ansbach Army Community Service program specialist.
Carson said the problem placed surviving spouses in a tough situation in which those who had both an active-duty dependent ID card and a survivor benefits ID card were required to give up one of them upon their arrival to Europe. Since medical benefits are tied to the active-duty ID, they normally kept that. So what was the issue?
"To retain survivor benefits, they need to carry around a line of duty report that details how their Soldier died," Carson said. "It's inappropriate information to be given out to anybody that has to determine if you're eligible, each time, for your survivor benefits that you're clearly eligible for."
This top-ranked issue made it's way up to the DA level where it's still being worked, Carson said.
"That hooked me because I saw it work," said Carson. "People are understanding. We're making progress."
The work groups consist of volunteers who represent a variety of demographics including junior- and senior-enlisted Soldiers, officers, spouses from all those groups, warriors in transition, retirees and civilians. AFAP also draws from dual-military and single-parent families.
"We want to be sure we get a solid cross section of the various types of demographics in one room since we all have different opinions and perspectives. Overall, it is through our differences where working out the problems and coming up with ideas helps these teams storm together and create solutions which can benefit the overall community," said Danielle O'Donnell, AFAP program manager for USAG Ansbach.
Depending on a group's identified strengths and knowledge base, it may focus on specific topics like benefits and entitlements, transportation issues or medical concerns. Then the facilitator, with the help of a recorder, and an issue support and room manager, guides the work group to a consensus.
Since people from different backgrounds or with different experiences might prioritize differently, this can be a challenge.
"Depending on the issues, emotions can run high," Carson said. "Some people feel more strongly about some issues than others. It's because you have that cross-section -- you have that single Soldier, you have that dual-miliary; you have that DA civilian. They are facing completely different challenges living over here, so their opinions differ widely."
"They have to figure out that middle ground together," O'Donnell said. "The facilitator's job is to guide them, keep them on track, and have no opinion whatsoever. The facilitator -- and the FRTI team -- they're neutral."
"It always comes down to consensus," Carson said. "'Do I have consensus on this title?' 'Do I have consensus on this scope?' 'Do I have consensus on using this word instead of this other word?' That's what it's all about, and that's the hard part because you have to get 15 strangers to agree on something that, because their backgrounds differ, they may not always agree on. But consensus is not necessarily agreeing; it's being OK with [the final product] and being able to live with it."
When someone doesn't have a well-developed opinion or does not have enough information to adequately form one, each delegate has access to subject-matter experts from across USAG Ansbach to answer them, Carson added.
O'Donnell said her own experience as a delegate during last year's conference was what piqued her interest in the program.
"It just had me really wanting to do more for my community," she said. "Already being a volunteer, already being out there and doing things -- now I was coming up with solutions with others on how to improve our community and how to improve the Army. From all the issues we worked out, it was very heartwarming to go through that. And now, to be the AFAP program manager, and to be able to provide this conference for everyone else within our community, that's what keeps guiding me and keeps pushing me forward."
THE END PRODUCT
At the end of the conference, each work group -- work groups 1, 2 and Youth -- had a representative present their issues to the room of delegates and subject-matter experts. Each issue included a carefully crafted scope and recommendations for each problem.
Organized by workgroup, the top issues this year included the following:
- International university information
- Larger shuttle bus Accommodation During Peak Hours
- High rental costs for Department of Defense personnel in private rentals in Germany
- Enforcement of background checks for all Department of Defense Education Activity volunteers
- Transportation of Soldiers and Family Members for medical appointments between USAG Ansbach and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center
- Child care to support Priority I families
- Limited lit outdoor recreation fields
As previously mentioned, the presenters also gave the attendees a rundown of their five "most critical" active issues currently at the Department of the Army level; their picks of five most valuable programs and services in USAG Ansbach; and the top mobilization and deployment strengths and weaknesses.
During the close-out meeting, Griess thanked the delegates for their work and for successfully meeting their objective within the two-day timeframe.
"This is a lot of work," Griess said. "Any staff of this size to meet like this and get through this kind of work and then have this kind of product is a success."