FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- The best post communities are those that continually strive for new and exciting ways to better serve the military Family's unique needs, and Fort Drum continues to count itself among those ranks.

Soldiers, Family Members and civilians gathered Monday and Tuesday at the Commons to make their voices heard in order to make a positive impact on Fort Drum and the Army.

The annual Army Family Action Plan Conference allows the community's voice to be heard, making their concerns known and offering suggestions for improvement.

"This forum has been around for about 30 years and (it) is the Army Family's way of solving our problems," said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander.

This year, more than 70 issues were submitted for review. Delegates were required to choose the top two issues in each category and present them to division and garrison leaders.

The delegates represent a cross-section of Fort Drum. They include commissioned and warrant officers, junior and senior enlisted Soldiers, retirees, reserve-component personnel, civilians and Family Members, Townsend noted.

Delegates representing one of four working groups -- benefits and entitlements, medical and dental, force support and family support -- received a list of issues pertaining to each topic. Delegates had to vote on the top two or three issues and then work to resolve them. Subject-matter experts from across the installation were on hand to provide answers and guidance to the working groups.

During the outbriefing Tuesday, a representative from each working group presented their top issues and suggested resolutions to community leaders. A representative from the November Teen AFAP Conference also presented their issues and recommendations for change.
The top issues included:

Benefits and entitlements
* Match Thrift Savings Plan contributions for military personnel. Currently, the government does not match service members' TSP contributions, like it does for federal civilian employees. The group recommends a similar TSP be offered to service members.
* Cover the cost to ship vehicles during permanent-change-of-station moves in the continental U.S. The Army pays for mileage reimbursement, but does not pay to transport vehicles. The group recommends the Army pay to transport / ship vehicles.

Medical and dental
* Protect Families from incurring substantial orthodontic care fees due to permanent changes of station. Currently, because most orthodontic providers require payment for services up front, Families pay substantial fees out of pocket when they are forced to change providers. The group recommends Soldiers and Families be given the option to stabilize during orthodontic care and amend the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act to allow service members to terminate the contract with orthodontic providers.
* Offer a tiered dental insurance plan for Families. Under the current TRICARE Dental Program / MetLife plan, Families have a maximum benefit of $1,300, regardless of the number of dependents covered under the plan. The group recommends a tiered dental program to allow Soldiers and Families to purchase additional cov-
erage to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

Force support
* Sergeants' Time Training is not being conducted in accordance with Fort Drum Regulation 350-1. Because of the operations tempo during the past few years, time has not been allocated for Soldier / leader training and development at the squad (or equivalent) level. The group recommends that units be required to offer weekly Sergeants' Time Training, conduct and evaluate training, and ensure leaders are held accountable for conducting effective training and tracking using the Defense Training Management System.
* Debit cards are not accepted at dining facilities. The group recommends debit card readers be installed in DFACs and a system be developed that will allow debit card software to interface with current DFAC management software.

Family support
* Mountain Community Homes does not consider dependent children's ages when putting Families on a wait list for housing. In some cases, dependent children over age 6 are forced to share bedrooms. The group recommends that MCH include dependents' ages and authorize separate bedrooms when children turn 6.
* There are no recreation programs for children enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Currently, children who do not meet the requirements to participate in some Child, Youth and School Services activities are excluded from recreational activities available to other Fort Drum children. The group recommends CYSS offer EFMP recreational programs.

Teen / youth education
* Ban the use of tobacco and alcohol on playgrounds. The working group recommends the installation impose a policy banning the use of tobacco and alcohol on playgrounds, post signs and require military police to enforce the rule.
* Maintain athletic fields near Monti Physical Fitness Center and Magrath Sports Complex. Athletic fields are scattered with rocks, holes, tall grass and unlevel terrain. The group recommends the fields be maintained regularly to ensure safety.

After briefing all of the issues, delegates were instructed to vote on the top three issues to be worked. In order of importance, the delegates chose:
* Offering a tiered dental insurance program.
* Matching service members' TSP contributions.
* Reimbursing Soldiers for personal vehicle shipment.

Just because some issues were not selected for the top 10 list, they are still important and will be reviewed, Townsend noted.

"All of the issues will be looked at by installation (leaders)," he said. "We want to find out what's the most important."

Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander, said he appreciated the dedication and support from all of the delegates and those who helped with the conference.

"You are helping to make this community better by volunteering your time," he said. "Time is one of those things that we don't have enough of, so it's very meaningful to all of us that you're willing to sacrifice that time. Thank you very much.

"This is a chance for us … to voice our issues to Army leadership," Rosenberg continued. "It starts with me and goes all the way up. If there's an issue that we can't resolve here and it's a worthy issue, it will go forward. Eventually, as these issues roll up, they'll go to the chief of staff of the Army for a chance at resolution."

Townsend also thanked the volunteers and AFAP support staff.

"I want to thank you for what you've done here. We have local issues with local solutions, and we've got bigger issues that we can't fix here but big Army, (the Department of Defense) and Congress can fix them if necessary," Townsend said.

"If you don't think you have a voice here, over the 30 years that this program (has been around), about 500 major policy changes have been made," he continued. "That's over 16 major things a year. I'm not talking about local issues that are solved all over DoD, I'm talking about 500 things that the Army, DoD or Congress have enacted to address issues brought up in little forums like this at installations all over our armed forces."

Some of the Army policies that have resulted from AFAP Conferences across the Army include increases to the G.I. Bill and Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, noncompetitive appointment authority for military spouses' employment and increased weight allowances for junior enlisted Soldiers, Rosenberg explained.

"It's a positive process that results in change," he said, adding that the AFAP Conference also is a chance to make positive impacts at Fort Drum.