By Mrs Michelle Kennedy (Drum)October 27, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers, Family Members and retirees made their voices heard Oct. 17-19 during the Army Family Action Plan Conference at Fort Drum.
During the past year, members of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum community have submitted quality-of-life issues to AFAP. The conference allowed delegates representing different post demographics to discuss and solve quality-of-life issues. Issues that can not be solved locally will be forwarded to the U.S. Army Forces Command. Top issues at the FORSCOM conference may be forwarded to the Department of the Army conference.
The Army asks for input to tell leaders what they can do better and how they can change things for Soldiers, Families and retirees, Col. Noel Nicolle, Fort Drum garrison commander, said before the conference. Local and Army leaders are looking for ways to make processes more efficient, and they want to know if something can be done better.
"AFAP is an incredible opportunity … to influence things at the Army level," he added.
About 50 delegates were assigned to help solve issues in one of four work groups: medical and dental; force support, Family support; and benefits and entitlements. Fort Drum teens and youths, as well as single Soldiers, met on separate occasions to discuss issues specific to them.
Subject-matter experts from across the installation were on hand to provide assistance and guidance to work groups.
"(Delegates discuss) issues that deal with quality-of-life issues for Soldiers and Families, not only at Fort Drum, but also the entire Army," said Jane Bresko, Fort Drum Army Volunteer Corps program manager and conference facilitator.
In the 28 years that AFAP has been around, nearly 700 issues have been submitted to the Department of the Army; 495 of those issues have been resolved, with 124 resulting in legislative changes, 176 causing Department of Defense or DA regulation changes, and 195 leading to improvements in programs, services and funding. The remaining 136 were found to be unattainable.
"Currently, there are only 51 active issues," she said. "If it's a program or service, an AFAP issue can improve it; if it's a policy or regulation, an AFAP issue can change it; if it's a law, AFAP issues can amend it; and if there's a low-cost creative solution, an AFAP issue should definitely be pursued to get those (problems) resolved."
Bresko added that some of the best-known issues that have come from past AFAP conferences are the Post-9/11 GI Bill, spousal preference for employment and the authorization for shipment of spouses' professional equipment, books and papers, also known as "pro gear."
Issues discussed during the conference included:
Teens / youths
There is a lack of information for new teens / youths whose Family is stationed at Fort Drum. The team recommends the post provide an information and resource guide to teens / youths.
Family Members do not have an accessible point of contact when faced with discrimination. The team recommends that Garrison Policy Memorandum 10-09 Equal Opportunity be updated to include a single point of contact for Family Members.
The Army Physical Readiness Training program doesn't meet Soldiers' current needs in combat. The team recommends that APRT include more well-rounded physical training to better prepare Soldiers.
Single Soldiers living in the barracks are only allowed to have visitors between 5 p.m. and midnight. The group recommends that the current Fort Drum policy be amended to allow for weekend visitor passes for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Soldiers lose money when they miss meals at the dining facilities. The team recommends that the Army implement a meal card that is connected to Soldiers' basic allowance for subsistence funds.
Benefits and entitlements
Soldiers, regardless of how many Family Members they have, are given a set weight allowance for their household goods. The delegates recommend that the Joint Federal Travel Regulation base the allowance on the number of Family Members.
The Post Exchange doesn't have any point-of-sale keypads that are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which calls for a 36-inch-high counter. The team recommends that the PX offer at least one ADA-compliant counter.
Currently, meal deductions are automatically being deducted when Soldiers inprocess at Clark Hall. The group recommends that meal deductions be performed at the unit level and to remove the responsibility from Clark Hall.
Military Family Life Consultants are only authorized in schools with at least 300 military children in each building, which includes only two school districts. The group recommends that MFLCs be accessible to military children in all 19 school districts in the North Country.
The shortage of military housing allows for only 31.3 percent of Fort Drum Families to live on post. The delegates recommend that 50 percent should be able to live on post.
Military Families who have physical limitations that prevent them from performing seasonal maintenance (i.e. snow removal, lawn care) are required to pay out of pocket to hire local services. The delegates recommend the Army create a program to provide assistance, with medical approval.
The Warrior Leader Course only provides 40 of the 250 tasks junior-enlisted leaders are required to know. The team recommends that junior-enlisted leader training be standardized to provide training in all skills.
Current basic training standards do not prepare recruits to meet Army standards upon arriving at their units. The group recommends the Army raise basic training standards; reinstate leadership authority to enforce standards through discipline, evaluation and discharge; and implement standard discharge procedures for failure to meet standards.
Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers do not receive preretirement education. The delegates recommend that reserve-component Soldiers be required to attend preretirement briefings and receive education opportunities about benefits and entitlements.
Medical and dental
Some dental offices charge fees to transfer records to another provider. The group recommends that United Concordia, the Army's dental insurance plan, mandate that providers release and accept records from other providers at no cost.
There are no post-traumatic stress disorder support groups for military Families. The team recommends the Army provide clinical and nonclinical support groups for Families and create a military-sponsored PTSD Facebook page.
Delegates voted on their top three issues: raising basic training standards, PTSD support groups for Family Members and a lack of post housing.
Brig. Gen. Harry E. Miller, acting senior commander at Fort Drum, commended the volunteers for dedicating their time to making Fort Drum a better place and not just focusing on local issues, but also Army-level issues during the out briefing Oct. 19.
"By and large, these are some great issues," he said. "Kudos on you all for looking at the big picture."
Bill Cox, a 24-year Army veteran and budget analyst for the Directorate of Resource Management, served as a first-time delegate at the conference. As part of Fort Drum's LEADER (Leader Enhancement and Developmental Education Requirements) program, Cox had an opportunity to work in the benefits and entitlements group.
"One of the biggest things I got out of AFAP is you really get to see and hear the pulse of not only the Soldiers, but the spouses, (Family Members), retirees and the civilians," he said. "You can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution, and … this is a great way to be a part of the solution."
Mary Elam, who has been a military spouse for 21 years, also was in the benefits and entitlements group.
Elam said serving in the benefits and entitlements offered an excellent opportunity to see how
government funding affects everyone.
"Right now, I see how it affects my Family," she said. "When you're in a work group that's diverse, … we get to see how (issues) affect everyone."
Elam said served as a facilitator last year, but decided to volunteer to be a delegate this year.
"I wanted to see how the whole process works, and I loved it," she said. "You have to think about how (issues) are going to affect everyone -- specialists, privates, NCOs, senior leadership or officers -- and you try to come up with the best solution to make sure everyone can live with (the decision)."