WASHINGTON — At this year’s 2022 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, one of the contemporary military forums, "People First — Improving Quality of Life," focused on improvements to the Army’s culture and its Soldiers’ quality of life.
A panel of experts gathered to help explain how the Army is working to make life better for Soldiers and their families. The efforts that were discussed ranged from improving Army housing, better access to child and health care, and increased career support to military spouses.
“The Secretary [of the Army] once said ‘the Army is its people and a strong, healthy, resilient, trained force is the most important indicator of our readiness,’” said Yvette K. Bourcicot, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). “Putting people first means creating a duty and installation environment that allows Soldiers and their families to thrive, and that means we are committed to quality-of-life priorities.”
In addition to Bourcicot, the panel included Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the Army Surgeon General and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command; Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, deputy chief of staff of U.S. Army G-9; Maj. Gen. Christopher R. Norrie, director of the People First Task Force; and Dr. Heather Krull, RAND Corporation’s director of personnel, training and health programs and senior economist.
“There is tremendous work going on across the Army in support of [the People First initiative] and really in support of the chief and secretary’s priorities,” said Norrie. “People First promotes healthy climates and reduces harmful behavior.”
We are creating a system to overcome harmful behaviors, and that system relies on a healthy community. To do this we have to have access to services, leadership, spiritual readiness, safety in the communities, food security and a feeling of connectedness, said Norrie.
RAND Corporation’s Arroyo Center is the U.S. Army’s federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis. Through surveys conducted with Soldiers and their spouses, the center found both groups to be stressed, tired, overwhelmed and lonely — especially spouses.
“We have to ensure that when we talk about family there is a readiness correlation to it,” said Vereen. “You can’t be a ready Army without the Soldiers who are willing to serve and the families that are backing them.”
To help alleviate some of these problems, the Army is working to expand the services and care for its people.
The Army has committed to building 12 new child development centers by 2026, opening 4,000 more childcare positions and expanding the Family Child Care program, which will allow for more flexible childcare options for service members. The Army has also pledged $1.5 billion in funding for Army housing, which will include new builds and renovations. An additional $3.1 billion will be used to help with privatized housing builds and renovations, and over the next several years, $10 billion will go to building and renovating barracks, said Bourcicot.
The Defense Health Agency is working to improve healthcare for Soldiers through virtual care options to include behavioral health services. According to Lt. Gen. Dingle, telemedicine technology along with the implementation of holistic health and fitness programs, will improve Soldiers’ mental, physical, spiritual and nutritional health and their sleep.
Additional quality-of-life improvements discussed at the annual convention included the Exceptional Family Member Program, spouse employment services, basic allowance for housing, PCS moving expense compensation, training calendar management, expanding talent flexibility and demystifying the Army lifestyle to both Soldiers and their families.
“The number one thing [to take away from this panel] is that ‘People First’ is not a slogan, it really drives decision making, drives our policy and it drives why we get up every day,” said Bourcicot. “All of these people who are in cooperation — the surgeon general, G-9 and others who have ‘People First’ in their title — that is not the alpha and omega of who’s working on this problem. This is something that drives the leadership, this is the real deal of what we spend our time on, and it’s what drives us.”