FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- Twenty-five years before Obama-mania swept the nation, the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) was already advocating the need for change.

Through AFAP, active duty Army, Reserve and National Guard members, Family members, surviving spouses and DA Civilians have a forum to raise issues and voice their concerns to Army leadership. On Dec. 1-3, 2008 representatives of the Fort McPherson, Ga. and Fort Gillem, Ga. communities gathered to propose potential changes that may benefit the Army community.

"Thinking change, making improvements, moving forward: this is the overall concept of AFAP," said Col. Deborah Grays, U.S. Army garrison commander. "If you want to make changes, this is the place."

For a military program, AFAP is very non-military in nature. A common joke about the Army is it isn't a democracy, it just defends one; however, AFAP is a democratic, grassroots organization where the voice of the people affects the decisions of leaders, said Carol Mitrisin, community life specialist, Installation Management Command- Southeast.

The program has its roots in a movement by Army spouses in the late 1970s who wanted to improve standards of living for their Families, according to a pamphlet developed by Jeannette Aymerich, garrison Army Community Services AFAP program coordinator. In July 1983, the program was formally adopted.

Since its inception, AFAP has lead to 107 changes to federal legislation, 154 changes to Army and Office of the Secretary of Defense policy and 173 improvements to military programs and services, Grays said.

Recent major changes include the addition of education benefits for surviving spouses and expanding the Exceptional Family Member Program respite care program and the amount of time a person is allowed to take off to take care of a child with chronic illness.

There are an additional 633 recommendations being reviewed at the DA level, Grays added.

Not all suggestions of change have to make it to DA to be implemented. Ideas are worked out at the lowest possible level, the local community, and only get passed up if they are applicable outside the community or cannot be corrected at the local level. Such suggestions are channeled to the Major Army Command level, which, if it is unable to implement the change, sends them to the DA level according to AR 608-47 (Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Program).

Although the Army is the only branch with an AFAP-type program, Mitrisin said the program also gives voice to everyone in the military community, as changes made from the program also affect the Army's sister services.

While the AFAP conference is held annually, people can voice their opinions year round.