FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 30, 2015) -- Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers is one of the few programs in the Army that is run by the very Soldiers it is intended to help. With its three pillars -- well-being, recreation and leisure activities -- the BOSS program supports single and unaccompanied Soldiers' quality of life improvements.

Providing an avenue to recommend changes to the chain of command is one of the ways the Army program helps foster better understanding between Soldiers and their commanders.
Representatives from Fort Drum units, at all levels, sat together April 16-17 during the Fort Drum BOSS conference held in Clayton to discuss their concerns and form a presentation for the garrison and division command sergeants major.

Soldiers and volunteer facilitators separated into five groups: sponsorship and mentorship; temporary duty and leave; education; transportation; and community service. Sgt. Jonathan Badillo, Fort Drum BOSS program president, said the conference only provided topics as a forum of discussion, but delegates could have discussed whatever they thought was important to them and the single Soldiers they represent.

"It's not only for the representatives' concerns," Badillo said. "It's a way for these representatives to address the concerns of their unit and their unit commanders."

BOSS representatives are appointed by a unit's senior enlisted Soldier, who is responsible for the health and welfare of their Soldiers. During the first day of the conference, Dr. Michael P. Evans, a Syracuse University and Columbia College professor, gave the representatives some pointers on public speaking. He told them to address their audience's interest during the presentation.

Command Sgt. Maj. Kristopher L. Cook, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, visited each group and advised them to sell their ideas. He told BOSS representatives to consider the implementation of their suggestion from the command's perspective.

"Here is some food for thought: you are the voice of the Soldiers of this installation," Cook said. "Think about the audience -- how they can invoke your agenda. Market your agenda as a part of theirs, and ask yourselves 'what is going to take to fix this?'"

Cook encouraged the representatives to articulate changes at most direct level, to generate support and demonstrate need to their first sergeants.

"It all starts with everyone doing their part," he said.

Soldiers in the education group discussed access to the Tuition Assistance program, which provides Soldiers financial assistance for voluntary off-duty, civilian-education programs. Representatives concluded that the annual limit of 16 credit hours and the limit of $250 per credit hour leave $500 of the allocated $4,500 inaccessible to qualifying Soldiers. They suggested the funds be available for the purchase of textbooks and other school necessities.

The group also discussed suggesting a command policy similar to the Warrior University policy some of them have experienced under the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. The policy allows Soldiers to go to school during the duty day from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. BOSS representatives said they believed that such an initiative would give Soldiers the time they need to use the education benefits they qualify for without limiting the time they need to train and prepare for deployments.

Service members who have served more than six years on active duty may transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents if they commit to an additional four years of service. BOSS representatives suggested that service members without dependents should be able to transfer the same benefits to their siblings or parents.The temporary duty and leave discussion group asserted that Soldiers are not familiar enough with the Defense Travel System, a travel management system that automates temporary duty for the Department of Defense. They said many Soldiers pay for expenses out of pocket, not knowing they qualify for reimbursement.

Soldiers shared their frustrations with frequent changes to tentative training schedules that prevent them from planning their leave accordingly. The group focused their efforts on lobbying for quicker access to leave. They argued for less administrative paperwork and a timely approval process that would be documented and displayed to show progress.

Spc. Joshua Bellrose, BOSS representative of A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, coined the phrase the group used during their presentation.

"It's my leave, and I want it now," he said.

The transportation committee wanted to reshape the dining facility shuttle service into a complete on-post, public-transportation system. They argued that a public transportation system would reduce the need for Soldiers to buy vehicles, which would limit Soldiers' out-of-pocket expenses and their vulnerability to predatory auto loans. Another suggestion the transportation group brought forward was a shuttle service to Syracuse Hancock and Watertown International Airports to save Soldiers airport parking or taxi expenses.

Spc. Khadijah Johnson, BOSS representative of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st BCT, said that she has to ask other Soldiers for transportation, and that the current shuttle service could serve Soldiers better by extending its hours and adding stops at battalion headquarters.

"As an American Soldier, it feels belittling to have to ask someone for a ride," Johnson said. "It's inconvenient."

The community service discussion group came up with suggestions that would increase Soldiers' participation in on-post services, such as extending the hours of Fort Drum's physical fitness facilities and increasing their capacity.

Their most discussed topic, however, was barracks visitation policies. Currently, barracks visitation policies vary from company to company, they said. The group argued for visitors to be able to stay overnight, especially during the weekend. Sgt. Geoffrey Thompson, BOSS representative of B Company, 1-32 Infantry, 1st BCT, spearheaded the topic. Allowing Soldiers in the barracks to have friends and Family overnight would increase the likelihood of Family visits and would increase morale throughout the force, he said.

"I guarantee that every single Soldier will agree with me," Thompson said. "Soldiers have demonstrated their ability to be responsible every day, and commanders can trust us."

The Total Army Sponsorship Program helps assist Soldiers, Civilian Employees and their Families during reassignments. The sponsorship and mentorship discussion group considered adding the responsibility of sponsorship to reception units, similar to basic training.

However, they decided to lobby for giving sponsorship coordinators tasking authority over sponsors, so coordinators and sponsors can make sponsorship their primary mission rather than balancing it with another.

Spc. Greg Buttner, BOSS representative of 59th Chemical Company, 63rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 52nd EOD Brigade, said that many Soldiers "get lost in translation" while in-processing.

"The most important aspect of our discussion was sponsorship," Buttner said. "We can't allow new Soldiers to be a statistic. Instead, we should be proactive in setting them up for success."

Addressing the issue of mentorship, the group called for a program where Soldiers could find mentors outside of their chain of command. They argued that a mentor outside of their chain of command would be more approachable and would give younger Soldiers more opportunity to drive their own professional development.

While addressing one of the groups, Cook said that everyone at Fort Drum must see incoming Soldiers as an opportunity.

"Your division, your post, your unit -- your team is your Family," Cook said, while looking at everyone in the room. "I consider you ... Family."

Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Lewis, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser, who also was present at the conference, encouraged the noncommissioned officers to be the change they wanted. He encouraged the audience to be their Soldiers' education expert and to bring them to the education center to encourage them to take advantage of tuition assistance.

Cook said that he is dedicated to Soldiers and their Families, and that he will take advantage of all his resources to take care of them.

"I will effect change where I can to improve my foxhole," he said. "It's all about improving your foxhole, and my Soldiers' foxhole is my foxhole, too."