By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone June 9, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Redstone Arsenal's Army Family Action Plan is a work in progress.
The AFAP Conference that met in December 2013 compiled 55 issues addressing the quality of working and living on the Arsenal. Of those three -- school of choice, storm shelter for residents and increasing the number of in-network health care providers -- were given top priority.
AFAP, which is celebrating 30 years, is an Armywide initiative to identify issues or concerns to improve the overall quality of life for active duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, retirees and their families and the Department of the Army civilians. This process involves identifying the most critical well-being issues facing each installation. These issues are either resolved at the installation or, if they carry Armywide significance, they are presented to senior Army leadership at an Armywide AFAP.
Since the Redstone AFAP, Redstone Arsenal's senior commander Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion and the Garrison's AFAP Steering Committee, led by Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks, have been closely monitoring both the top issues and the 52 other issues, and working to bring resolution to them before the 2014 AFAP, scheduled for Oct. 7-8.
"We're committed to reviewing and acting on the issues presented at the AFAP conference," McQuistion said.
"The Garrison commander and his staff keep me informed on the progress, and we update the leadership team every quarter on the AFAP issues. We know the budget will constrain some things we'd like to do, but where we can make improvements for low cost, the Garrison will push forward to solutions that benefit our entire community."
The 2013 AFAP was the first one that McQuistion participated in as Team Redstone's senior commander. She said she was impressed with what she saw during that two-day conference, and knows that to move AFAP forward requires commitment from Team Redstone leadership.
"The volunteers who made the AFAP happen -- the delegates and facilitators -- and the ACS staff all are committed to making a difference for our community," she said.
"We all know that there are fewer resources than in the past, but it was very impressive in seeing the thoroughness in presenting the issues and looking for consensus solutions to benefit our community. I'm proud to be associated with Team Redstone leaders who took the issues seriously and who are dedicated to improving Redstone Arsenal."
Delegates to the AFAP Conference included active duty military, retired military, National Guard, Reserves, military family members, civilian employees and contractors. They were divided into three work group areas: Health Care, Installation Support and Consumer Services. The work groups reviewed the 55 issues submitted for consideration, brainstormed and prioritized the issues, voting to determine the priority issues, and presented each issue with a title, scope and recommendation. The groups presented one top priority issue to leadership to conclude the AFAP conference.
The AFAP Steering Committee meets quarterly to review active issues, provide additional guidance and direction, and decide on issue disposition. The committee members ensure that AFAP issues are entered into the Garrison's tracking system, worked on by assigned directorates and then tracked to resolution. The committee's goal is to ensure that progress is being made to resolve community issues. Issues that are beyond the Garrison's scope are forwarded to the Installation Management Command Atlantic Region AFAP program manager.
The steering committee is also committed to communicating progress on those issues to the Team Redstone community.
"Once AFAP issues are presented in the conference, they become our issues. They also become known by employees Redstone-wide," Marks said.
"It is essential that the Team Redstone leadership provide feedback on the progress of these issues because our Redstone community needs to know we take these issues seriously and that we give them priority consideration as we go forward in further building on the reputation of Redstone Arsenal as being a great place in the Army to live, work and play."
Marks said he would like to see the Redstone AFAP issues from the 2013 conference resolved prior to the beginning of the 2014 AFAP conference on Oct. 7-8.
"If they are doable -- both from a practical and financial aspect -- then we will make the AFAP suggestions a reality," he said.
"Of the 55 issues submitted for consideration, three have been given top priority -- a school of choice option for children living at Redstone, a storm shelter for residents of Redstone Housing and increasing the number of in-network health care providers who accept Tricare insurance. These three issues all relate to the quality of life of Redstone Arsenal resident families and military-connected families, and we will pursue these three as the top issues for the safety and security and well-being of our families. The other 52 issues will also be addressed and, hopefully, will result in a better installation for our entire community."
Progress on the top three priority issues are:
School of Choice option for service members residing on Redstone Arsenal -- Current school zoning laws prohibit service members and their families living on Redstone Arsenal from selecting a public school of choice for their children. Although the zoned schools meet the minimum educational requirements for the state of Alabama, they do not meet the standards of educational excellence expected by the Department of Defense Education Activity as prescribed in its Community Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2013-14 through 2017-18. This impacts the education and quality of life of military children.
Recommendation: Establish a policy to allow for all service members residing on Redstone Arsenal to select a school of choice for their children.
Discussion: Residents with school-aged children were surveyed and about 70 percent said they would prefer to keep their children at the school they are zoned for. There are a total of 212 school age children residing on post. Huntsville city schools superintendent Casey Wardynski believes that School of Choice for Redstone Arsenal residents will eventually happen.
Need for Storm Shelters for housing area and emergency planning information for residents -- There are no storm shelters for Redstone's housing community. In times of inclement weather, occupants of housing are not adequately protected. All residents of the housing community are affected by not having safe shelter. Residents are not aware of emergency plans.
Recommendation 1: Construct safe and adequate storm shelters in the Redstone housing area.
Discussion: DD Form 1391 has been completed by Garrison's Directorate of Public Works and the construction project will go on Military Construction list, although MILCON funding is not probable in the future.
Recommendation 2: Develop and publish an emergency plan for utilizing proposed storm shelters.
Discussion: The emergency plan for tornadoes has been advertised to residents in housing by Redstone Communities Inc.
In-Network Health Care Provider -- There is a diminishing pool of providers accepting Federal Employees Health Benefits. This restricts access to care for beneficiaries (active duty, retirees, family members and federal employees). Information on existing providers is not readily available.
Recommendation: Actively educate existing and emerging health care providers on the benefits of being part of the Federal Health Care Network.
Discussion: Fox Army Health Center commander Col. William Darby explained that he has met with the chief executive officers of both Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood. By and large, Tricare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield are accepted by 95 percent of health care providers. The true problem is that throughout the local health care system there are shortages of primary care physicians. Darby said that federal employees should research insurance providers and which physicians accept them before selecting their provider for insurance. The Federal Employees Health Benefits website has this information readily available. Darby said the website will also provide an Access-To-Care Network Dashboard in May 2014.
Steps are being taken daily to address these top issues along with the other 52 issues form the 2013 AFAP.
"I, personally, would like to see these issues resolved or addressed before the next AFAP," Marks said. "From a practical standpoint, that might not happen, particularly if funding is needed to implement a suggestion or if policy changes are required to implement a suggestion. But be assured, the Garrison team is working to address all 55 issues in a timely fashion."
When an issue can't be resolved, it usually comes down to money, he said.
"Resolution is not possible if there is a funding consideration. Army funding for military construction projects is extremely limited these days," Marks said.
"If funding is not a consideration, resolution may come down to ensuring that all those entities involved in the solution are working together or may require further analysis of the issue. In those cases, resolution may not come quickly but eventually all issues will be addressed."
For example, he said, if the Garrison can't fund a storm shelter for the Redstone residents then providing that storm shelter may be accomplished by identifying a storm shelter close by off-post and conduct rehearsals with Redstone residents.
Besides addressing the 2013 issues, the Garrison is also focused on soliciting issues and recruiting volunteers for the 2014 AFAP.
"To have a meaningful AFAP every year, we need to hear from as many members of Team Redstone as possible. We need to know their concerns or their ideas for making Redstone Arsenal even better than it is," Marks said.
"Second, we need volunteers who are committed to the AFAP process and who know that it really works. Those volunteers are vital to the entire process because they bring their ideas, suggestions, diverse backgrounds and experiences to the process. And, lastly, we need senior leadership who are dedicated to following through on the suggestions. All of these things are important to having an AFAP that is relevant to the community and that can make a difference in our community."
It is imperative, McQuistion said, to fill the 2014 AFAP conference with volunteers who are proactive, committed to addressing the issues and focused on bringing positive change to Redstone Arsenal. It is also important that those volunteers come from all walks of life at Redstone Arsenal.
"The AFAP process is only as good as the voices that bring the issues to the leadership team," she said.
"An active and effective AFAP needs participation that represents diversity in experiences, backgrounds, ages, cultures and beliefs that are prevalent at Redstone Arsenal. We've proved over and over again that AFAP produces results. That's been true here at Redstone Arsenal because of the participation of the military, military family members of all age groups, retirees and DA civilians in the process."
It is AFAP, more than any other Army initiative, that makes an installation a community. It is important, she said, that within that community all voices are heard.
"We all have ideas to improve quality of life," McQuistion said. "Hearing from a broad population gives us the benefit of the very best ideas and those that benefit the greatest number of people from our community.
"AFAP is a way to get involved and make a difference where we live, work and play. It's part of being a connected community. Ideas come to life through AFAP that can make us stronger, more resilient, and happier military families and employees. It's about building a stronger Redstone Arsenal team that helps to build a stronger Army team."
The proof that AFAP works can be seen throughout Redstone Arsenal and the entire Army.
"The most visible and recent difference is the indoor swimming pool, which came out of an AFAP conference years ago," Marks said. "That indoor swimming pool is also representative of how long it can take for an AFAP suggestion to come to fruition. Because of funding, building an indoor swimming pool involved quite a lengthy process. But it was never an issue that went away. The Garrison and MWR kept working on the issue and made it happen for our community, and today many in our community are enjoying an indoor swimming pool.
"From the 2013 AFAP, issues such as building more walking trails, One-Stop building access, pedestrian crossing lanes and sidewalks on east Martin Road, Gold Star license plates and active duty spouse employment are all either being pursued or have been completed. These are examples of issues that affect the quality of life of our entire community, and we remain committed to implementing solutions to these issues to benefit our community."
Editor's Note: See the full list of Redstone AFAP issues on the Redstone Rocket website, theredstonerocket.com. To submit issues or volunteer for the 2014 Army Family Action Plan Conference, contact Mary Breeden at 876-5397 or firstname.lastname@example.org.