By Mr Clarence R Giles (IMCOM)October 13, 2011
Better Opportunities for Single Parents, an initiative of Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, commanding general of 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, and his wife Lucille, ensures single parents in the military do not get overlooked.
"It is new not only to Fort Bliss, but also for the Army. There is not another in existence. We are the benchmark program for the Army," said Sandy Martinez-Reyes, outreach program coordinator and BOSP liaison for Fort Bliss. "Our single parents feel like they don't belong. If you look at it, sometimes they don't want to participate in a family event because they are not [considered a conventional] family. Sometimes they won't participate in the BOSS [Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers] events because they are not a single Soldier; they have a child. … Their responsibilities and focus are entirely different."
Single parents are a growing demographic. According to Martinez-Reyes, there are approximately 1,600 single parents at Fort Bliss. The reason the situation has attracted attention is because "they need a voice," said Martinez-Reyes, adding "They feel like they don't belong."
"They have family readiness groups and liaisons. The single [Soldiers] have the BOSS organization. The single parents have no voice, conduit or agency to support them," said Martinez-Reyes. "The ones I talk to tell me they feel like they don't belong."
Martinez-Reyes has been in her current position since January. She was charged with responsibility for the single parent issue this past June. What brought home the depth of the issue was the number of single parent Soldiers coming to her office looking for help.
"It was about fifty-fifty for male and female Soldiers coming with child care issues. They had no extended child care. They were supposed to use their family care plan for exercising and working late. They were receiving a hard time from their chain of command because they would not execute their family care plan."
Martinez-Reyes said she was handed the assignment during a manager's staff call.
"I was told, by my supervisor, that General and Mrs. Pittard felt there were workable alternatives that would aid the single parent Soldier," she said. "So far in the program we brief unit commanders, newcomers, family readiness group trainings, [Army Community Service] and sponsorships that meet with Command Sergeant Major David S. Davenport, once a month, making sure single parents are recognized and respond to the process."
Currently, Martinez-Reyes is in the process of getting the program up and running. Additionally, she would like to have activities for parents who have partnered with BOSS that will include the Soldier's child.
"BOSS goes to the Grand Canyon," she said. "The single parent wants to go, but child care becomes an issue. The single parent can't take the child because it's a BOSS event. … I would like to make it where if we offer an event -- and I've partnered with BOSS on this -- we can offer it to single parents. With a pre-arranged child care provider at the destination, single parents can take their children with them and also get a chance to enjoy themselves."
The efficiency of the proposal will be challenged over time by approximately 1,600 parents and minimally the same number of children.
Martinez-Reyes would like to have more single parents meet, because they understand the mutual challenges faced daily. One of the more pressing issues is daycare.
"A Soldier is not going to understand that, because they don't have a child. A family's not going to understand that, because they're a unit. A single parent has different obstacles," contends Martinez-Reyes. "I have seen parents who don't have on-post housing but work on post. Their child cannot go to school on post because they reside off post. They can't qualify for housing because they don't have custody of their children."
She said parents can request an exception to policy, but it's not guaranteed. Additionally, she said one then has the issue of if the child comes on post and uses some government services, such as the Child and Youth School Services, what the consequences would be.
She has asked all her single parents to apply for Army Family Action Plan and register their issues. The plan is to hold a focus group Oct. 26 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Family Resilience Center in Bldg. 250 on Club Road. She does not know how long it may take for the chain of command to respond but hopes for a response within six months.
Martinez-Reyes is also tentatively planning for two more focus groups in October and November, "So I can have more issues to prove a need," she said.