CHICAGO, April 29, 2011 -- Building resilience in families and ensuring they have access to effective support programs are just a few of the steps the services are taking to ensure a high quality of life for troops and their families, the services' senior enlisted leaders said during a town hall meeting here yesterday.

"At the end of the day, we as a nation don't do well promoting resiliency -- that ability to bounce back," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said. "If we can instill [resilience] in our Soldiers and in families we believe we're going to have a stronger force, and we need a stronger force to get through these challenges."

Chandler was joined by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt for the meeting at the 2011 Family Resilience Conference, hosted by the Defense and Agriculture departments. Their wives also attended the meeting, with the exception of West's wife, who is working for the Navy in Afghanistan.

The leaders stressed the importance of leadership when working to build resilience in servicemembers and their families.

"It starts at the top and has to work itself down," West told the packed audience of family support professionals.

Marines often are reluctant to get help, Kent noted, which underscores the importance of strong leadership.

"Marines see the horrors of combat each and every day," Kent said. However, he added, many Marines believe they'll be considered weak if they ask for help.

"But if they're hearing from the leadership and up, the families and the Marines will come forward," he said. "We're breaking that mold right now. We're getting away from that stigma. If you've got a problem, come forward. We're going to get you fixed and keep you in the fight." Kent's statements were met by a round of applause.

Chandler lauded his service's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which is designed to build resilience in Soldiers and family members through tools such as an online assessment and modules tailored for specific needs.

Building on that program's success, the Air Force has adopted a version called Comprehensive Airman Fitness, Roy said. The Air Force also is looking at its support programs to see which ones are effective and which aren't working, he added.

Roy acknowledged concerns about support programs being cut due to budget constraints.

"I will tell you, on behalf of all of us, we're out to protect some of those things, too, because we know how important they are," he said.

"But the fact of the matter is, we're not going to be able to protect everything," Roy continued. "We've got to select the right programs for our people -- military members and the family members. We've got to make sure those programs are sustainable throughout time."

West said he's often spoken to families who are "overwhelmed with support."

Chandler agreed, noting it's an issue he often runs into in his meetings with families.

"There's so much information and where do you find it'" he said. "How do we have a clearinghouse where you go to one place that you can get to all the information, that it's easily navigable' What's out there and how do I get access to it'"

While too much support is better than not enough, West noted, the services, particularly in this time of "jointness," need to work together to consolidate support programs.

"[There are] some things that we can't bring together -- they're service specific. But where we can we will," he said. "We're going to look at our programs and utilize the ones that will be good for our families as we go forward."

The senior leaders and their wives took several questions from the audience during the session, which ranged from the need to spread the word about family support professionals to the importance of reaching out and connecting to geographically separated families.

Roy's wife, Paula, lauded the White House's new "Joining Forces" military family-support campaign, which emphasizes everyone can do something, whether individuals, communities or organizations.

"We all can send an email, make a phone call, we all can do something," she said.

One audience member asked the leaders what they believed were military families' most pressing challenges. Kent said he's concerned about the impact of post-traumatic stress on troops and their families.

His wife, Liz, said she most often hears concerns about quality child care, education, the time lag to get a medical appointment and difficulties finding doctors off-base who accept TRICARE. Spouse employment is another pressing issue across the services.

The leaders wrapped up the session by reiterating their commitment to military families.

"We recruit Marines but we retain families and that's a fact," Kent said. "They are important because they sacrifice so much."