By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneNovember 10, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A special thanks was delivered to the entire Team Redstone community during the installation's 27th annual Army Family Action Plan Conference on Oct. 21.
During opening ceremonies attended by leaders and representatives from several Redstone organizations, Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks said the support of Team Redstone makes the conference successful every year and continues the Garrison's efforts to make installation improvements that benefit the entire Redstone community.
Directing comments to the AFAP conference delegates who were tasked with discussing issues and recommending solutions, Marks told them "the whole purpose of the Garrison is to help people by providing infrastructure and services. You being here helps us to fulfill that mission. We need involved, engaged leadership to help make things better."
But Marks also gave the delegates a challenge -- to discuss and recommend on issues as they pertain Armywide.
"This is a different installation than most," he said. "We are civilian heavy but we also have military here and a large retiree population. … We will have two working groups that will look at a total of eight issues that are large installation-type issues.
"Smaller, local issues are important and we want to hear about those, and we will address those as well. But the larger issues, the policy issues, things that can't be solved by the Garrison or the collective organizations here, those are the ones we want you to focus on."
Each of the two working groups of delegates was charged with reviewing their four AFAP issues, and then choosing two issues to further discuss and make recommendations for resolutions. These issues were then reviewed with Redstone leadership at the AFAP outbriefing Oct. 22, and will be submitted to AFAP at the Department of the Army level for further consideration.
Local issues suggested by the two groups will be reviewed and addressed by Garrison leadership.
Marks thanked all the volunteers -- not only the delegates, but also the facilitators, the recorders, transcribers, issue support people, the subject matter experts and others -- who make the AFAP possible.
"I appreciate everyone volunteering for this," he said.
During the Oct. 22 outbriefing to Team Redstone leadership, delegate Tabatha Carpentier presented the top two issues considered by Work Group No. 1; and delegate Letitia Weaver presented for Work Group No. 2.
The issues for Work Group No. 1 involved providing Military Family Life Counselor Services for military retirees and their beneficiaries; and shortening "Access to Care Standards" appointment times for active duty Soldiers.
Carpentier said Work Group No. 1 would like to see MFLC services expanded so that active duty Soldier families who use the services can also use them after retirement. MFLC services are unique in that they are focused on issues specially related to Soldiers and their dependents, are totally confidential and the counselors can meet clients in locations outside of the standard office.
On the "Access to Care Standards" issue, Carpenter said, "This is a problem at every military installation and it is not limited to the Army. The current 28-day appointment scheduling deadline for wellness (and specialty care) appointments is quite a bit when talking about Soldier readiness and unit readiness. We're asking for this to be reduced to 14 days."
In addition, the group wants to see the seven-day routine appointment scheduling deadline reduced to three days. All standards should be consistently enforced across the Army, she added.
"Help keep our Soldiers ready for the fight and ready to serve," Carpentier said.
Fox Army Health Center commander Col. David Carpenter, who attended the outbrief, was pleased with the recommendation, although the number of medical providers would have to be increased to meet the new metric, he said.
Delegate Carpentier thanked the support personnel that assisted Work Group No. 1 by providing and recording information. "The subject matter experts gave us fantastic knowledge. If nothing else, we walked away from our conference better educated," she said.
Briefing for Work Group No. 2, Weaver described her group's recommendations as "productive collaborations." The issues for Work Group No. 2 involved fitness time allowances for civilian employees and the lack of Blue Cross/Blue Shield "Employee Plus One" option.
Weaver said the current Office of Personnel Management policy concerning fitness time allowances during work for civilian employees "does not adequately support the growing need for physical fitness."
Although the three hours of physical fitness per week is adequate, it should be allowed for a civilian's entire government career, not just six months, she said.
And, she said, the lack of a Blue Cross/Blue Shield "Employee Plus One" option causes an "unfair, financial impact."
In addition, each work group presented five local issues for consideration.
Marks said at the outbriefing that for both Redstone and the Army as a whole AFAP is a "useful tool for us in terms of feedback. It lets you know where your gaps are, your vulnerabilities, and where we need improvements. … Constructive criticism or recommendations on how to do things better are all golden to me because it's all feedback that we can respond to."
The four AFAP issues are "great issues" to be addressed at the Army policy level and the local issues will allow the Garrison to better serve its customers, he said.
"These are all valid requirements to resolve in a way that meets the challenge of serving 37,000 employees assigned to Redstone and 96,000 retirees in our 15-county area. You've done a great job in addressing real issues we can take more direct action on," Marks said.
Linda Via, wife of Army Materiel Command's Gen. Dennis Via, said she has seen how the AFAP process works to benefit Army families.
"The process truly does work," she said. "As a spouse, I have benefited from AFAP for 31 years."
Over the years, she has seen AFAP change from, at its beginnings, being a weeklong conference to today being a one-day conference with a one-hour outbrief due to constrained budgets.
"Regardless of it being a five day or a one day, it's very, very important to protect the sanctity of the AFAP process itself," she said.
Via attended the Association of the U.S. Army conference in D.C. in October, where family programs were a major focus of discussion.
"While it's important to look at our family programs (to ensure they are effective), it's also important to protect and preserve the sanctity of family programs because if they go away they probably won't be coming back," she said.
AFAP delegate Leanne Ogden, a military spouse, is glad for the opportunity to affect change for Soldiers through the conference.
"I think it's important to bring issues that represent our Soldiers to the forefront and to influence change if it's needed," she said. "And it's good to have a broad spectrum of input for retirees, active duty Soldiers, DA civilians and all, and deciding the issues."
AFAP volunteer and delegate Sharon Samuelson has been associated with AFAP since 1999.
"I think the process works," she said. "I really enjoyed the time with our group and I learned a lot. I would hate to see the AFAP process go away."
Redstone schools liaison Barbara Williams, who served as issue support during AFAP, said the Redstone conference was "very worthwhile, very productive. I enjoyed the process so much. I want to continue to keep up with these issues."