By Erin Murray, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 13, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 13, 2011) -- Last week, delegates, volunteers and subject matter experts gathered to seek solutions for problems within the Fort Rucker community and the total Army at the installation's Army Family Action Plan Conference for the 2012 fiscal year.
"The conference was only a two-day event, but the work that the conference delegates did will benefit the total Army Family for many years to come. They rolled up their sleeves, worked through complex issues and offered smart, attainable recommendations to Fort Rucker's command," said Shellie Kelley, AFAP director.
Five workgroups were assembled by AFAP to represent a cross section of the community, with active duty, retired military, spouses and Department of Defense civilians giving two days of work to research and resolve submitted issues.
During the final brief to the command group, which included Col. Jessie O. Farrington, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence deputy commander and assistant commandant for Fort Rucker, and Col. James A. Muskopf, Fort Rucker garrison commander, the delegates presented nine resolutions from a broad spectrum of Army life issues. Additionally, two delegates from the teen AFAP conference in September also presented their two issues to the command group.
The Retail, Leisure, Family and Community workgroup presented two resolutions for issues concerning security in the child development center and the amount of time between Exceptional Family Members Program respite care requests and the delivery of care. The workgroup suggested enhancing security at the CDC and issuing an expanded protocol for EFMP requests.
The Teen AFAP workgroup had resolutions for two issues. Delegates suggested increased frequency of pesticide treatments on youth services sports fields in order to prevent allergic reactions to sports players and spectators. The second recommendation by Teen AFAP was to expand child, youth and school services membership to civilian children in order to increase participation and strengthen relationships with surrounding communities.
Delegates from the Entitlement and Force Support workgroup contributed two recommendations to the command group, the first dealing with availability of casualty assistance officers to survivors. The primary concern of the issue was the inability to contact a CAO on a personal phone line in times of need. In their presentation, the workgroup noted the need for CAOs to be readily available because "Families need to feel supported during the grieving process and may feel neglected by the Army or CAO if they are unable to reach them at the time they need assistance." They proposed seeking highly-motivated CAOs and allowing access to government cell phones.
The Entitlement and Force Support workgroup also requested that DOD civilians and non-appropriated funds personnel be granted commissary and post exchange privileges.
Members of the Military Retiree/Survivor group handled three retirement benefits issues. They proposed that retirees who served and subsequently retired from September 2001 to August 2009 be allowed to transfer Post 9-11 GI Bill education benefits to dependents. The workgroup's presentation stated that "the person who retired prior to August 2009 made the same sacrifices as the person who retired after August 2009. This gross oversight in the law is unfair to our honored servicemembers who were not awarded this benefit."
The workgroup also recommended a guaranteed retirement system to Soldiers upon enlisting and introducing a Web-based benefits tool to aid survivors from "losing benefits over misunderstood or inaccessible expiration dates [that cause] undue frustration, stress and potential financial burden."
Medical and Dental delegates handled two issues involving benefits and programs for Soldiers and retirees. According to the delegates, many TRICARE beneficiaries will no longer have access to 24-hour pharmacies, due to a national pharmacy opting out of the TRICARE system. The proposed resolution asks TRICARE and Army medical facilities to inform beneficiaries of the changes in providers, publish a list of eligible pharmacies and establish a contingency plan for emergency prescriptions.
The other Medical and Dental resolution involved better integration of National Guard Soldiers and Families into EFMP services by providing screenings and better accommodating National Guard Families upon activation.
Participants and commanders were eager to praise the benefits of the AFAP conference on a local and Armywide level.
"It's a very beneficial process that benefits everyone involved in the military system. All of our team members were very supportive of each other and the issues," said Gretchen Levine, a member of the AFAP support staff and recorder for the Medical and Dental workgroup.
When Sgt. Christopher Fuchs, A Company, 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment, was selected as a delegate, he was not sure what AFAP really did, but after the conference, he said that he could see the benefits.
"There's value in it, and it was informative. It makes me want to be a better Soldier and serve the Fort Rucker community," he said.
After the closing briefing, Farrington thanked the delegates and support staff for contributing their time and thoughts to the Army.
"There are many more good ideas out there that can help our Soldiers and our Families. We see the tangible benefits from the work you have done," he said.