By Rob McIlvaine, FMWRCJanuary 15, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 14, 2009) -- Spouses, Soldiers (Active, Reserve, and Guard), retirees and volunteers all brought unique qualifications and perspectives to the Army Family Action Plan Work group sessions as they worked on issues to improve the Army quality of life.
The 12 members of the Family Support II working group were given a list of nine issues on Tuesday, and were tasked to determine the two most important, then discuss 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 Family Readiness Group programs at Fort 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, Carter said. 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 was 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," said Pete Hepp, FMWRC family programs.
Currently, as stipulated in Army Regulation 608-1, appendix J, external fund raising 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 passersby can't buy it. What's more, FRG volunteers become exhausted during any fund raising 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 was pulling 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 took many forms, because most of them have lived through the problem in various ways during the past few years.
Patti Elliott is 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, they started the 'Not Forgotten Bracelets' donations project.
"Each of our bracelets is handmade by a North Carolina Blue Star mother with love," Elliott said. "The money donated for the bracelet will be used to honor our military personnel in North Carolina."
Ken Kraft of Oregon, besides raising Wensleydale Sheep and Papillons on his Timber Creek Farms, also raises Victorian Bulldogs.
"These are the healthy bulldogs," Kraft smiled. "They are the bulldog of the 1700s, raised to be consistently bully, with great temperament, loyalty and outstanding health."
His passion runs deeper for veterans. Over the past three years, Kraft's farm has given about 30 bulldogs to wounded warriors.
"It's an amazing thing to witness how the Victorian Bulldog takes to a wounded warrior who has PTSD or bad injury," Kraft said.
Both Kraft and Elliot struggled to focus on the big picture, as their perception of the problem was filtered by their individual experiences with donation laws.
Carey Quick saw the issue as a Soldier's wife, a Soldier, and the mother of four children, one of which 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. Her phone buzzed and she ran out the door during a 10-minute break, only to return and quickly get back down to business.
"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 continued with each member giving insight into why one word was better than another, one phrase more accurate than another.
"We have to make sure of the order. We're talking about reserve component then supplemental funds and finally the family readiness groups," Carter said.
Someone suggested 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, said Travis Bartholomew, representing Army Reserve Family Programs, while reminding 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 work group woman. Another said, "yes, what about you' Do you like that'"
Not unlike a federal case being deliberated in a jury room, the issues received constant and persistent deliberation until late Thursday afternoon when the issue papers on the two issues from each of the eight working groups were be sent to Army leadership.
On Friday, the entire conference would select the top five issues out of the 16 presented. 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 and ultimately resolve the issue. The top five, however, 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 Army-wide 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, she said.