WASHINGTON — Sergeant Major of the Army Michael R. Weimer highlighted the foundational priorities of the Army — warfighting, delivering combat ready power and formations, continuous transformation, and strengthening the profession of arms while stressing the need for improving quality of life for its Soldiers during an armed services panel Wednesday.
“America’s Army stands as a formidable force, lethal and ready to surge when called to fight and win to defend national interests,” said Weimer. “More than 65,000 Soldiers are deployed across several areas of operation while another 74,000 on standby for immediate and crisis response forces. Behind every one of those individuals is a family bearing an immeasurable weight and this must not go unnoticed.”
Weimer said pay and compensation and quality housing and barracks are the top two issues but acknowledged all quality-of-life issues are important and vital to the force.
While a 2023 $3.4 billion investment in military housing assisted with the ongoing measures to improve quality of life standards for Soldiers and their families, Weimer said not receiving predictable federal funding and pay because of continuous resolutions exacerbates ongoing issues.
“Families support every facet of our nation and help make the Army the greatest force the world has ever known,” Weimer said. “The Soldiers, their Families, caregivers, survivors and the Army civilians are the cornerstone of the Army, and we have not wavered on our commitment to them.
Quality barracks, housing
Providing quality housing, barracks, childcare and services to Soldiers and their families is critical in attracting and retaining high-quality Soldiers who will serve and protect the country, Weimer said. Family and privatized housing companies on 50 Army installations are in the middle of a $3 billion investment cycle running from 2020 to 2026.
Weimer said the Army is focusing on unaccompanied personnel housing, improving barracks, child development center construction and renovations across Army installations.
Soldiers cannot focus on the mission if they can’t take care of their families.
“More than 431,000 spouses play a crucial role in Soldiers’ readiness and lethality,” Weimer said. “The Military Spouse Employment Partnership and My Career Advancement Accounts are both initiatives supporting meaningful spouse employment.”
This includes a scholarship worth up to $4,000 to pursue licenses, certifications or associate degrees in occupations such as dental assistants, behavior technician specialists, personal trainers, pharmacy technicians and physical therapy assistants. The partnership works with the Defense State liaison to improve state license reciprocity so that the certifications can transfer to each new state.
The Army is addressing childcare demand and streamlining hiring to help maximize capacity at the CDCs, Weimer said.
“Ongoing staffing challenges continue to impact childcare availability at some locations despite initial pay increases, bonuses and expanded hiring initiatives for childcare workers,” he said. To address this, the Army helps in community-based care options to military and civilians who are geographically dispersed or at garrisons with long wait lists for installation-based care.
He said Army families also need the exceptional family member program to be easier to use. By the end of fiscal year 2024, the Headquarters Department of the Army’s Central Office will be established to ensure a consistent process across the Army.
To recruit, develop, retain, reward and sustain the all-volunteer force to fight and win in the current competitive marketplace, the Army implemented the Future Soldier Preparatory Course program in August 2022 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“This program is an investment in America’s youth to assist them in overcoming barriers to service by providing focused academic and fitness instruction to help recruits meet and exceed the Army’s desired accession standards for body fat composition and academic test performance prior to basic training,” Weimer said.
Access to this program allows individuals who already met all other qualifications for enlistment, such as moral and medical accessions standards, and provides a successful pathway to service. So far, graduates have been successful and go on to leadership positions in training units at a higher rate than their peers with a large number scoring above a 500 out of 600 on the Army Combat Fitness Test. The minimum passing score for the ACFT is 360.
“We’re just shy of about 14,700 (potential recruits) having gone through the program,” Weimer said. “We’ve got a 95 percent pass rate. I’m very hopeful from what we’re seeing. When I went to the sawdust pit, about 50 candidates were going through. One stood up and said, ‘This is the first time anyone’s ever cared about me.’ I don’t think I was looking at the initiative from that lens. It was powerful.”
Of the more than 50,000 future Soldiers who enlisted into the Regular Army this year, Weimer said many took advantage of both the monetary and non-monetary options such as critical skills bonuses, student loan repayment, choosing their first duty station or attending other valuable training like airborne and ranger schools.
New Guard and Reserve Soldiers added skills through education programs to utilize federal tuition assistance and GI Bill programs. Non-prior and prior service Soldiers can qualify for the $50,000 student loan repayment program with a minimum six-year commitment.
Weimer said in pursuit of preventing and reducing harmful behaviors, “The Army has taken significant steps, focusing on a public health approach that emphasizes connecting to protect,” he said. “We’re implementing a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention through initiatives that address risk and protective factors, individual Soldier resiliency skills, destigmatize mental health, safeguard access to lethal means and enhance access to counseling and support services."
The establishment of the Directorate of Prevention Resilience and Readiness, the Integrated Prevention Advisory Group, the bi-monthly sergeant majors leading change forums, and their chiefs building cohesive teams forums work to eliminate harmful behaviors, he said.
“Together we can ensure our Army remains a lethal force built around a culture of cohesive teams capable and ready to face the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Weimer said. “People are at the heart of Army readiness and our strength is Soldiers and their families.”
He said to remain combat ready, Soldiers must shoot, move, communicate and bond through tough training and learning to overcome adversity. The Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) System is the Army’s primary investment in building a better warfighter and increasing lethality and readiness.
“H2F helps Soldiers achieve optimal performance, reduce injury rates, quickly rehabilitate, recondition and reintegrate after injury, and improve Soldier and unit readiness across the Total Army,” Weimer said.
“People are our advantage, and Army readiness is predicated on the fortitude and resolve of our personnel. It commences with the installation-specific infrastructure and programs,” Weimer said. “We need quality of life for present and future generations as we continue to foster cohesive teams, maintain tactical and strategic readiness and sustain the momentum of modernization.”
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James M. Honea, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos A. Ruiz, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne S. Bass, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force John F. Bentivegna also testified today about quality-of-life concerns for their respective services.
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