WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 20, 2012) -- Among the many freedoms Soldiers fight to defend, the right to vote is one of the most fundamental and officials at the Human Resources Command, or HRC, want to help the entire Army family exercise that privilege.

The HRC, in partnership with the Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FVAP, is working to make the voting process easy and accessible to Soldiers, their families and Department of the Army civilians.

Lt. Col. Stewart Stephenson, chief of the Soldier Programs Branch with the HRC emphasized the importance of registering, updating information and voting

"Our mission, our charge, is informing Soldiers on their right to vote," Stephenson said. "Our goal is to (get) everybody that wants to vote, whether it's a family member, a DA civilian, a Soldier, (to get them to) understand they can vote, they know how to vote, they are afforded the opportunity to do that, and that they know where to go to get assistance."

There are more than 5,500 voting assistance officers, from company level to installation level, to help with the voting process, Stephenson said. "Every Army installation has a voting assistance officer now," he added.

Voting assistance officers are there to help Soldiers register to vote and cast their vote by providing things like voter registration forms and informing them how best to return the ballots, but the responsibility to vote ultimately falls on the individual, Stephenson explained.

"You have to register, and you have to register early, update your address when you move and vote. You actually have to cast that vote," he said. "The voting assistance officers have been trained. They can go through and help you based on your specific location."

Soldiers can also visit the FVAP website at www.fvap.gov to register and get information on submitting ballots for each state.

Soldiers who are deployed or have moved recently should be sure to update their information so officials can send them an absentee ballot. However, sometimes they have to take matters into their own hands.

"If you hit 45 days before the general election and you haven't gotten anything from your local election official, don't wait for them. There's a federal absentee write-in ballot. Fill that out, send it in. They may pass in the mail, but you still got your vote in," Stephenson advised.

Absentee ballots can be found on the FVAP website as well as voting assistance offices at the unit level.

"We encourage people to vote. I would argue that it is not just a right, but an obligation," Stephenson said, noting that voting is a freedom Soldiers defend.

During election season, the best bet for a Soldier or someone representing the Army with doubts about proper office etiquette and election behavior is to talk with the chain of command, Stephenson said.

Generally speaking, don't do anything in uniform that might give the impression that you are speaking for the Army, or that the Army specifically endorses a political party, he said.

"What we're trying to do this presidential election year is establish an irreversible momentum and make the voting process so embedded in the force that we don't slack off between (elections)," he said.

For more information on voting assistance policies, visit www.hrc.army.mil.