FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 7, 2011 -- The people who know Fort Hood best -- the Soldiers, Family members and civilians of the Great Place -- took part in the annual Army Family Action Plan Conference Oct. 25-28, in an effort to improve Army programs and issues both locally and Army-wide.
The 101 delegates were split into eight different work groups where specific topics were discussed by the attendees. Work groups included housing, community, force support, Family support, surviving Family members, medical, finance/employment/benefits and child and youth/education/consumer.
For three days, the delegates met at Comanche Chapel, discussed issues pertaining to each specific group and made recommendations for improvement. The top issues from each group were then briefed to the Fort Hood and III Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., and the delegates prioritized the top five issues from the entire conference.
One of the most striking changes to this year's local conference was the inclusion of a new group, completely made up of Gold Star parents and spouses. At the final report-out, Campbell thanked all the delegates for their hard work, but made special mention of the surviving Family members who attended and shared their recommendations.
"To our surviving family members, thank you for having the courage to spend a week talking about some issues that I know are very tough for you to talk about," Campbell said during the report-out Oct. 28. "We acknowledge your sacrifice and your service and will continue to do all we can to make sure that we recognize your service to the country and to the Army."
On the final day of the AFAP conference, the top three issues from each group were presented to all the delegates and the senior leaders. Each delegate then cast their vote for the top issues. Five issues from the 30 presented were prioritized by the delegates.
The top two prioritized issues both came from the surviving family members group.
The top-prioritized issue addressed installation privileges at post stores, gas stations and restaurants. Currently, surviving parents who attend an event on post do not have privileges to purchase items on post to include food, gas or merchandise at the Post Exchange unless they have Department of Defense privileges from their own retirement.
The group asked that surviving parents be granted a limited number of passes to purchase items on post, especially because many parents visit the military installations their Soldiers called home to attend grief seminars or visit unit or individual memorials.
The second issue addressed the need for more training for casualty notification officers and casualty assistance officers.
During the groups' presentation, spokeswoman Kim Sanchez, spoke of the need for sensitivity and diversity training, interpersonal skills and real-life scenarios that could help a CNO/CAO best comfort a family.
"It it our responsibility to do right by the families," she said, "But it is also our responsibility to do right by those we are asking to do this job. It should be better than the minimum."
The other top issues included Post 9/11 GI Bill transfer eligibility criteria for Soldiers discharged due to a service-related disability; a centralized and standardized Child, Youth and School Services registration database to ease registration at CYSS facilities as families move to different installations; and the request to amend the Emergency Leave Criteria to include grandparents.
"You gave us some great things to look at, and I can promise you we'll do that," Campbell said, referencing all 30 of the issues from the conference.
Now that the issues have been identified, the ones that can be dealt with locally will be tasked out to local action officers for continued work. If the issues need attention at the higher level, they will be forwarded to the Forces Command AFAP Conference.
Campbell also said that some issues may have unattainable resolutions.
"Some of them will be a challenge in the new era of fiscal reality," he said. "But we should never let the cost determine how we take care of Soldiers and families."
He added, "I will do all I can to make sure we go through each recommendation, sit down with the leadership team and see what we can do."
Diane Mansfield-Williams, the AFAP program manager, said she was thrilled with the outcome of the conference and the issues that were raised. She said that Fort Hood is once again leading the way in the Army by including the Gold Star Families in the local conference.
"We just thought it would be a good idea because they are still part of the Army Family and they have issues, too," she said. "I think the Army has a lot to learn from those who have gone through these experiences. We thought it would be a good idea to have some input on the concerns and issues they have."
Diane Ross, the chief of the Soldier and Family Readiness Branch, said all the delegates at the conference pulled together and identified some excellent issues designed to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and their families.
"AFAP is a great thing," she said after the report-out. "I just think being able to reach out and touch the Families in a time when there are so many deployments and so many Soldiers being gone, this is just another vehicle that we can use to draw the family members and the folks here at Fort Hood together."