FORT POLK, La. - In an election year, candidates discuss issues that affect you. They tell you their plans for your future, but beyond casting a vote, you have no real say in those policies. Many people would like their voice to be heard and have an active role in changing policy. That's not likely to happen on the national stage, but right here at Fort Polk, Louisiana, concerned Soldiers, Family members, Department of the Army civilians and retirees can take part in the Army Family Action Plan Conference.

The two-day annual conference was held Oct. 15-16 at the Army Community Service Center and addressed topics ranging from medical care, consumer services and education to other quality-of-life concerns. Conference topics were submitted by the Fort Polk community and reflect their ideas about what needs to be changed both on the local level and Army wide.

Patricia Hauck, program manager for AFAP, explained how important the community's input is in this process. "You represent the various Families, Soldiers and population of Fort Polk. This is an opportunity for you to make a change. It's a responsibility and I want you to take that responsibility and enjoy it," said Hauck to attendees. She stressed the importance of every issue. "If someone felt strongly enough to submit these issues, then I think it's important for us look at them, address them, and take them seriously," said Hauck.

Brig. Gen. James C. Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, said a few words to the participants about the process they were about take part in. "I've got two words for you -- AFAP works. It's a wonderful forum that starts at every installation when people voice their concerns, and then moves up the chain of command. I'll tell you, the Army's senior leadership listens, but it all starts here in this room. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work," said Yarbrough.

Delegates, chosen from each unit, were then gathered into topic-specific groups to discuss issues and decide whether or not they should be pursued. "We discussed child care and transportation," said Kelly Bloss, a delegate at the conference.

Ella Bynum, a subject matter expert from AECOM attended the conference and offered her opinion on some important issues that were discussed. "Army wide, stop loss needs to be addressed. The basic allowance for housing is also an important issue. It causes a Family hardship when you have X amount of dollars and that money only covers rent. There needs to be an increase. I see some changes, but we need more," said Bynum.

Ray Plowman, a delegate whose group tackled Family support and youth services, said he enjoyed being a delegate and part of the process of change.

"This conference takes questions and concerns directly from the Soldiers and brings them to the attention of the chain of command," said Plownan.
He said the big issue his group discussed was the lack of walls at South Polk Elementary.

"The lack of walls is distracting for the students and teachers must speak softly so as not to disturb students in other classes. With the amount of Soldiers coming to Fort Polk, you are going to be forced to have larger classes where teachers have to speak louder to be heard," said Plowman.

By the end of the conference's second day, the top five issues voted on by delegates are:
Lack of medical providers
Base pay
Learning environment at South Polk Elementary School
Excessive cost of daycare
Basic Allowance for Housing calculations

Issues are either resolved at the installation level or travel up the chain of command.
"I think the conference went well. I was pleased with the results. The delegates got a real taste of change at the grass-roots level. I think all the issues were good quality-of-life issues and everyone I talked to had positive feedback," said Hauck.