By Sarah J. Schmidt, USAG Schinnen Public AffairsFebruary 10, 2011
SCHINNEN (Netherlands) - The idea of "change" is a common theme woven into a variety of messages from pop music to presidential campaigns. This year's Tri-Border Army Family Action Plan Conference builds on that same theme but with an outcome of positive action, says USAG Schinnen's AFAP Manager Jennifer Partridge, who is coordinating the conference for the tri-border region of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
"Rock stars sing about it; poets write about it; leaders embrace it--change means something good for all of us," Partridge exclaimed, "and this year's AFAP Conference capitalizes on that theme by providing an opportunity for positive change."
Army Family Action Plan Conferences, or AFAP as they're commonly known, have been leading change in military communities for more than 25 years, often generating improvements that benefit the entire military, not just the Army. This year's Tri-Border AFAP Conference takes place Feb. 23 to 24, hosted by USAG Schinnen at the JFC Conference Center in Brunssum, Netherlands.
AFAP Conferences bring together groups of service members, family members, DoDDS employees, retirees and military leaders to identify quality of life issues impacting their communities. The groups prioritize the issues and tackle the toughest ones, producing suggestions, which are then passed to senior leaders who frequently use the suggestions to make improvements at local installations.
About 90% of AFAP issues are resolved at local levels, according Ms. Partridge, but some issues that originated at local AFAP Conferences have risen to higher DoD levels and resulted in policy revisions that affected all military service members. She cites the Thrift Savings Plan for military members and increases to Service Members' Group Life Insurance as two significant examples.
"Both of these programs, as they exist today, grew out of local AFAP issues raised by concerned individuals who took the opportunity to participate in their community AFAP conference," Partridge said.
At last year's AFAP Conference here, 30 delegates and over 70 participants from around the tri-border region met and prioritized 15 issues, most of which have now been resolved, according to Ms. Partridge. One such issue came from the teen work group, which suggested ways to increase and improve recycling efforts at school. As a result, AFNORTH International School (AIS) added more recycling bins and placed them in strategic locations so students would have better access.
"AFAP gave our teens a venue that focused on them," said Dr. Ellen Minette, Principal of AIS's American Unit School, "and it also showed them how the school and community interact."
Minette believes one of the best aspects of the AFAP process is the opportunity to discuss issues and brainstorm solutions. "It's more than just talk; there's the opportunity to act," she explained.
Other issues at last year's Tri-Border AFAP addressed child care, dislocation living allowances, standardization of services, medical care, housing policies, customer service, family member employment and recreational facilities. Partridge expects a number of good issues to arise at this year's AFAP, based on the preliminary input she's receiving from the community.
Tri-border residents have been submitting issues via drop boxes located in the Schinnen Food Court, Bowling Center, all U.S. post offices, AAFES and Commissary facilities in the tri-border area. Issues can also be submitted online by clicking the "AFAP link" on USAG Schinnen's web site (www.usagschinnen.eur.army.mil). All issues are submitted anonymously and may be written by anyone in the tri-border area.
"To make AFAP really work, we need to hear from you. And not just Army personnel--we need to hear from everybody in the tri-border area who uses Schinnen's services," Partridge said. Every issue received will be vetted by the work groups at this year's AFAP Conference.
"It may sound cliche, but AFAP really is your chance to take action for positive change and make things better for all military families," Partridge said.