By Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public AffairsJanuary 14, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. - Spouses, Soldiers, retirees and volunteers all bring unique qualifications and perspectives to the Army Family Action Plan work group sessions. The one thing they have in common as they work their issues: a passion for improving the quality of life for the entire Army community.
Take the 12 members of the Family Support II working group, who were given a list of nine issues Tuesday; tasked to determine the two most important concerns; then discussed how to succinctly and accurately word each issue paper.
Discuss, though, is putting it mildly.
"Yesterday was intense," Sue Carter, room facilitator, said to the team. "Our responsibility is to help people understand about these not so apparent issues and make sure our messages are being received."
Carter has many years experience as a facilitator at AFAP conferences. As a former Army spouse, an Army Community Service employee and a volunteer who now works with 1st Army Division East and FRG programs at Ft. Meade, Md., she was selected by her garrison to participate in this year's AFAP.
"Each of you has something different to add because of your experience," she told her work group.
The power of the AFAP process comes from having such diverse experience in one place. Before the group were two issues: #39, Family Readiness Group fundraising restrictions, and #61, funding for Army Reserve FRGs.
Each of those issues has far too many facets for a one-page position paper to cover it all -
so the challenge is to say enough to be clear about the problem, yet still leave room to allow for a creative solution.
"For example, for both the National Guard and the Army Reserve, there's no way for donations over $1,000 to find its way to FRGs, as there is for the Active Army where the donations are managed by the Directorate of Family, Morale and Welfare and Recreation through the Army Community Service," Pete Hepp, FMWRC Family programs, said.
Currently, as stipulated in Army Regulation 608-1, Appendix J, external fundraising and solicitation of gifts and donations is restricted.
"In other words," said Carter, "FRGs could be selling cookies and brownies just inside the gate of a Reserve Center, National Guard Armory or a military installation and a passerby can't buy (from them). What's more, FRG volunteers become exhausted during any fundraising activity and often don't have the energy to focus on the real mission - providing valuable information to the Family members of Soldiers."
FRGs are supposed to provide a service that "...gives Families what they need before they need it," Carter emphasized, not focus on raising funds.
The working group pulls together, debating sentence structure or flow of wording to enhance understanding, trying to state in a single page the frustration FRG leaders face because of policy and regulation limitations. Their passion takes many forms, because most of them have lived through the problem in various ways during the past few years.
Consider Patti Elliott, a member of the North Carolina chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. To raise awareness of their sons and daughters continuing to serve in the military, the organization started the Not Forgotten Bracelets Donations project.
"Each of our bracelets is handmade by a N.C. Blue Star mother with love," Elliott said. "The money donated for the bracelet will be used to honor our military personnel in N.C."
Ken Kraft uses canines to life the spirits of Soldiers physically or mentally impacted while serving in a combat zone.
Besides raising Wensleydale Sheep and Papillons on his Timber Creek Farms in Oregon, Kraft also raises Victorian Bulldogges.
"These are the healthy bulldogs," Kraft said smiling. "They are the bulldogge of the 1700s, raised to be consistently bully with great temperament, loyalty and outstanding health."
Kraft's passion runs deeper for veterans. During the past three years, his farm has given about 30 bulldogges to wounded warriors.
"It's an amazing thing to witness how the Victorian Bulldogge takes to a wounded warrior who has PTSD or bad injury," Kraft said.
Both Kraft and Elliot struggle to focus on the big picture, as their perception of the problem is filtered by their individual experiences with donation laws.
Carey Quick sees the issue as a Soldier's wife, a Soldier and the mother of four children - one who is getting married, but not until her father returns from Iraq.
"I'm in the Texas National Guard," Quick explained, "and right now I'm waiting on a phone call from my husband," she said. As her phone buzzed, she ran out the door during a 10-minute break, only to return and quickly get back down to business, hashing such matters as:
"Supplemental Mission Funds provide (rather than allow) FRGs an alternative funding source, permitting (rather than allowing) them to support and...."
To accept and manage donations from outside donors to support...."
The morning continues with each member giving insight into why one word is better than another, one phrase more accurate than another.
"We have to make sure of the order. We're talking about Reserve Component (first), then supplemental funds and finally Family Readiness Groups," Carter said.
Someone suggests changing the wording on a sentence beyond the one currently being discussed.
"Oh no, no, please, let's not go that far down. Let's stick to the first sentence," Carter implored.
While it seems like quibbling, it's an important part of the process, to ensure the problem is looked at, and then defined, through the eyes of as many people as possible. Travis Bartholomew, representing Army Reserve Family Programs, reminds the group to stay positive.
"With umpteen years of doing this, you should stay away from any negativism. Be sure to keep the sentences positive. In other words, how about this, 'Supplemental Mission Funds will allow Reserve Component FRGs to further connect Families and focus on the mission''"
"I like that," said one group member. Another said, "Yes, what about you, do you like that'"
Similar to a trial being deliberated in a jury room, issues will receive constant and persistent deliberation until late Thursday afternoon, when issue papers on two issues from each of the eight working groups are forwarded to Army leadership.
On Friday, the entire conference will select the top five issues out of the16 presented. But all 16 issues will enter into the Department of Army AFAP process and will be assigned to members of Army staff, who will develop an Action Plan to ultimately resolve the problem. The top five issues go straight to the General Officer Steering committee.
According to Carter, one word can make a difference. If the position paper they present isn't clear and concise, defining an Armywide issue in a strong enough way to attract enough votes, it won't make the top five. That's not to say it won't be worked at all.
"The top five are just a sub-section of the 16 that were prioritized by the delegates," said Tricia Brooks, the HQDA AFAP Issue Manager. "All 16 are worked to some type of resolution.
"The difference is that the top five will be on the June 2010 AFAP GOSC (General Officer Steering Committee) agenda to identify the actions and plans to resolve them," Brooks said. "The others may spend more time in various committees or working groups before being seen by the GOSC."
The passion and diversity of the workgroup may make a difference in how soon the issue is resolved, but all 16 issues will be worked.
End of discussion.