Senior leaders pledge renewed focus on family readiness, resilience

By Elizabeth M. CollinsOctober 20, 2014

FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2014) -- The Army's top leaders said in the face of changing missions and budget cuts, family readiness is more important than ever. They made the remarks in a town hall-style panel during a family forum at the Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III told family members that resilience is not just about Soldiers, it's about families.

"Caring for our Army family is mission essential," said McHugh.

"We are, all three of us, every day thinking about the impact of our decisions on our families and the role that our families play," added Odierno.

The three men recently launched Total Army Strong, which succeeds the Army Family Covenant. It sets high Army requirements and standards for family programs, but allows commanders to tailor the programs on installations to make sure they best fit their local populations. That's because Soldiers and families at, say, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have different wants and needs than Soldiers and families at Joint Base Lewis McCord, Washington.

Of course, in order for any program to be effective, families have to first know that it exists and, second, actually participate. The Army can't force them, noted McHugh. It can only provide solutions and access.

"We really need to do a much better job of understanding who we're trying to reach and how they want to be reached," said Chandler, noting that many legacy, pre-9-11 programs are no longer relevant.

Every commander needs to use social media to reach families, especially because more than 60 percent of active-duty families live off base. To communicate effectively, however, leaders and commanders need to turn to younger Soldiers to learn which networks and programs new Soldiers and families are actually using, Odierno said. He suggested a family programs app might be helpful.

And, of course, remote and virtual access is especially important for reserve-component families, he added, as he challenged installation commanders to do more to support the Guard and Reserve populations who live near their bases.

At the same time, the three leaders agreed, nothing trumps the importance and the value of face-to-face communication and interaction. They made the comments in response to a question from a child psychiatrist who said too many teenagers don't know how to connect in person.

"We understand this is a problem," said Odierno, "and the Army is a people-centric organization, and interaction is absolutely essential to us and to our mission. So we now translate that to families.

"I think this is a growing problem that we have to recognize, and I think we have to figure out how we help young families as they come into the Army and provide assistance that allows them to interact within a family, but also interact with others. I think we can do that with many of our families on the installation, whether it be the youth programs that we have, whether it be family forums that we have."

In fact, he said, they're considering expanding the Strong Bonds program run by the Chaplain Corps into a version for families as well as couples.

Chandler added that at a time the Army is combating stigma against post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health concerns, it may have unwittingly made it easier for Soldiers and families in need to isolate themselves by building more private housing and single barracks rooms.

That problem, Chandler noted, goes far beyond the Army. It's a nationwide problem. "I don't think the Army is going to solve (it). If we think the Army can solve all problems, I think we're deluding ourselves." There needs to be a collaborative approach with other federal agencies, as well as local and state resources.

Still, Chandler said, "We've got resilient families that do amazing things to sustain our Army, whether that's volunteering, whether that's helping out in the community, whether that's doing things to help ensure our education is being taken care of or our young people being advocates to ensure we're doing the best we can for our children."

Related Links:

Army News Service

SecArmy opens AUSA with call for budget resolve

'Total Army Strong' to succeed Army Family Covenant

No act: Sinise serious about supporting Gold Star families Army Families

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno

Secretary of the Army John McHugh

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III

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