Questions from the Road
Taking care of our Soldiers, Families, and Civilians is an enduring priority for the Army. Throughout my travels, both CONUS and OCONUS, I frequently hold townhall meetings to better understand the issues that are impacting the readiness of our Soldiers, Civilians and their Families. Many times I am asked questions about issues that we face across the Total Army. This page will be dedicated to sharing those questions and answers with our broader Army family. As a result of feedback received from the field, the Army has revised several policies to improve quality of life and to better support our communities. This webpage will also be used to widely communicate policy changes in addition to answering frequently asked questions.
- QUESTION: Within the past year, it is believed the Cost-Of-Living Allowance (COLA) allowance changed for DA Civilians working at National Training Center (NTC) after the front gate moved further from the installation's cantonment. It is further believed COLA is calculated according to the distance from the installation's front gate to individual residences located outside of the installation. Changing the location of the gate resulted in a loss in COLA for a large number of DA Civilians, creating financial hardship and an increase in turnover of personnel. As the distance required to travel to work has not changed, the feeling is the gate's location should not affect how COLA is calculated. How is COLA calculated and what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future?
- ANSWER: The belief that a change to the NTC gate's location affects the payment of allowances to DA civilians is not correct. First, COLA is paid only to Service Members and DA Civilians at certain locations outside of the continental United States. While DA Civilians at the NTC receive locality pay as determined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the calculation is made according to the NTC's location within the Los Angeles -- Long Beach locality. This locality includes seven counties in Southern California, including San Bernardino County where the NTC resides. Any movement of the NTC gate has no bearing on OPM's calculation of locality pay.
There is a long-standing rumor within the Fort Irwin community that the front gate was moved to change the pay and/or allowances for those stationed at Fort Irwin. This rumor is so pervasive that Stars and Stripes published an article on it in 2011, which can be viewed: here.
- QUESTION: At the NTC, there is no high school on the installation, resulting in a one-hour bus ride, each way, for students in order to get to and from the closest local high school. This extended distance discourages after-school activities and support for school activities. There is a strong desire to have a Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) high school at Ft. Irwin. How does DODEA determine when and where to open a school on an installation?
- ANSWER: Under Title 10, Section 2164, the Secretary of Defense may enter into arrangements to provide for elementary and secondary education in the United States when he/she determines that appropriate educational programs are not available through the local educational agency that operates adjacent to a military installation. Currently, there are approximately 170 students residing on Fort Irwin that commute approximately 40 miles to the Silver Valley High School located in Yermo, CA.
The NTC Senior Commander may request, and the Secretary of the Army may endorse, a request to consider an additional DODEA school on the installation to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. The request must address: (1) the extent to which dependents are eligible for free education in the local area adjacent to the military installation, and (2) the extent to which the local education agency is able to provide appropriate educational programs.
- QUESTION: The size and types of homes available vary according to each installation. Some installations have five or more bedroom homes, while others have at most four-bedroom homes. How is the size of each home determined, and is there a requirement for a set number of each size home on every installation?
- ANSWER: Department of Defense Instruction 4165.63 (DoD Housing) and Army Regulation 420-1 (Army Facilities Management) establish the policy by which the Army determines family housing requirements. Department of Defense Manual 4165.63 (DoD Housing Management) further describes a Housing Market Analysis (HMA) that is employed by the Army to determine the number and size of family housing units, broken out by pay grade and bedroom requirements, for both government-provided or privatized family housing.
The HMA assumes one bedroom (BR) per family member, with a minimum of two BR and a maximum of four BR based on the number of family members and grade of the Service member. Garrison commanders establish bedroom eligibility based upon local requirements and assets availability. The Army's recommended bedroom guidelines are as follows: 1) Four BR minimum for grades O6 and General Officers; 2) three BR minimum for grades E7 - E9, WO4-WO5, and Field Grade Officers; and 3) two BR minimum for grades E6-WO3 and O1-O3. Minimum eligibility for five BR varies according to the ages and genders of four or more dependents, excluding the sponsor's spouse. Privatized family housing partners can build five-BR homes for larger families, with the overall financial health of the project as a key component when determining to do so.
- QUESTION: Household Goods (HHG) Shipment and Transportation. A spouse described the Army's pattern of HHG contract carriers as grossly negligent, and asked for a solution and accountability.
- ANSWER: To improve the HHG movement experience for Soldiers and Family members, the Army is focusing on short and long term changes to how the process is conducted. In the short term (by the 2019 peak move season), the Army will: Raise the minimum execution of HHG quality assurance inspection rates to from 25% to 50% in order to ensure transportation service provider compliance with packing standards; increase the use of containerized shipments to reduce loss, pilferage, and/or damage to HHGs; and, in coordination with USTRANSCOM, provide Soldiers and Families access to an online HHG carrier list with their associated customer satisfaction scores and a 24/7 hotline to address Soldier and Family move concerns.
Long term (beyond the 2019 peak move season) the Army is focusing on broader structural changes to the HHGs movement process. To address quality assurance challenges, the Army is requesting funding to support the hiring of additional quality assurance inspectors. When feasible, the Army will increase the average PCS order lead time and shift PCS report dates out of the peak move season in order to allow more flexibility in transportation service provider selection.
- QUESTION: Many military spouses are highly experienced or highly educated but remain underemployed due in part to many PCS assignments. These spouses would be excellent candidates for appropriated, GS-level positions in various agencies. What is the possibility for making some of these positions primarily teleworking or 90-100% remote positions?
- ANSWER: Telework Policy – The Department of Defense Instruction Number 1035.01 (Telework Policy) allows the Services to develop Telework Programs for eligible positions. Determinations of the work requirements and the feasibility of telework or remote work must be made at the local level, consistent with mission needs.
For Appropriated Fund Positions - The Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness recently updated the Priority Placement Program, which offers hiring preference to military spouses when they apply for Department of Defense jobs through USAJobs. Military spouses can now apply for positions directly through USAJobs, they will have visibility of all federal jobs available alongside Department of Defense jobs, there are no limits to the number of applications they can submit, and they can use the military spouse preference for one offer of permanent federal employment per duty location. This will give military spouses more control over which jobs they want to apply for to find the best fit for their careers and their families.
For Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) Positions - Army Policy allows employees to transfer from one Army NAFI position to another without a break in service upon completion of their probationary period. The Army also developed a Child and Youth Services Employment Tool, which provides priority hiring for employees who are transferring between locations, reduces hiring time during relocations by providing background check reciprocity, and establishes an open communication channel between applicants, supervisors, and the NAF Human Resources Division.
- QUESTION: What is being done with the quality of the high school education at Fort Bragg, NC? Families living on post that have high school children are being sent to E.E. Smith. The school received a C in Academics and in College Prep courses. According to the test scores, only 23% of students are proficient in math and 34% in reading. For this reason alone, families are choosing to live off post so that their children can get a better education. This specifically applies to older students who cannot enroll in any of the school of choice programs. If they choose to voluntary transfer to a better school, they cannot play sports for a year. This hurts a junior or a senior. Plus, not all families can afford to send their kids to private schools. It is already difficult for high schoolers to transfers schools, but this makes it much harder. The children of military members deserve a better education than what is offered if you live on Ft. Bragg. In closing, It seems the senior leaders often PCS without their families for this reason.
- ANSWER: The Fort Bragg Senior Commander and CYS School Support Services are aware of the academic challenges at E.E. Smith High School and of the transitional challenges that our Military Families with high school students face. The Fort Bragg Garrison Commander, along with the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Director and School Liaison Officers, are working with leadership from E.E. Smith High School and Cumberland County Schools to discuss school quality and transition challenges faced by military families. A Military Family Life Consultant is also assigned to E.E. Smith High School, and the 16th MP Brigade is actively involved as a unit partner to provide additional support for the school.
The Cumberland County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Marvin Connelly, put together a team to develop a 5-year strategic plan for the school district. Dr. Connolly also created new positions to facilitate growth in the school district, including a new Chief Executive Officer for Community Engagement and a new Chief Academic Officer. As a military veteran, it is important to Dr. Connelly that Cumberland County Schools meet the needs of military families.
The Cumberland County Schools strategic planning team is co-chaired by MG (Ret.) Rodney Anderson and the Cumberland County Schools Assistant Superintendent, Melody Chalmers, who previously served as the E.E. Smith High School Principal. Their team includes representatives from the local community and service members from Fort Bragg.
The strategic planning team conducted a year-long listening tour and used online surveys to gather input from families, community members, and other stakeholders. More information can be found at: www.strategicplan.ccs.k12.nc.us.
PERSONNEL AND PAY ISSUES
- QUESTION: What is being done to assist Families whose Soldiers are deployed to Europe and are losing money? They have lost their separate rations, but do receive separation pay at the end of the rotation. This is actually LOWER than what their separate rations are. In addition, these families are maintaining 2 households in 2 locations, one CONUS, one OCONUS.
- ANSWER: Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) is an allowance paid to Soldiers to offset part of their individual foods costs. The BAS rate for enlisted is $369.39 per month and for officers is $254.39 per month. When the Government deploys Soldiers on Temporary Change of Station orders in a field duty status to Europe or Korea, Soldiers no longer receive BAS and are required to pay for meals at a discounted rate of $10.50 per day, or on average $315.00 per month. Soldiers deployed to Europe or Korea are also provided lodging at no expense.
While deployed for 30 continuous days or more, Soldiers with dependents receive a monthly Family Separation Allowance of $250. Additionally, Soldiers on rotational deployments to Europe or Korea receive Assignment Incentive Pay for Operational Deployments (AIP-OD) at a rate of $195 per month. Soldiers deployed to Korea and some Soldiers deployed to Europe also receive Hardship Duty Pay-Location at a rate of $50-$150 depending on the location.
The total allowances and entitlements for a Soldier with dependents on rotational deployments to Europe or Korea ranges from $445-$595 per month depending on where they are deployed. After $315 is deducted to pay for the individual Soldier’s meals, which was the purpose of BAS, Soldiers earn an additional $130-$280 per month to cover additional family expenses.
- QUESTION: Will there be any change in DLA for moves during the upcoming moving season? Specifically, going back to allowing DLA on the front end of PCS moves, instead of having to wait until arrival at the new Duty Station?
- ANSWER: No, current policy mandates Soldiers to use their Government Travel Credit Card (GTCC) for all official PCS travel expenses and allows Soldiers to withdraw cash using their GTCC as needed. Soldiers without a GTCC may seek DLA advance travel pay through their supporting finance office upon the issuance of PCS orders.
This policy is governed by Public Law 105-264, DoDI 5154.31, Vol. 4 (Government Travel Credit Card (GTCC)), DoD 7000.14, Financial Management Regulation, Volume 9 (Travel Policy), the Joint Travel Regulations (Uniformed Services regulations), and Army travel policy (dated September 2014).
- QUESTION: Why Soldiers with over 10-years of active federal service (AFS) were not allowed to apply to OCS?
- ANSWER: Soldiers with over 10 years of Active Federal Service can apply for a waiver to attend Officer Candidate School and for a waiver to the officer appointment policy. The Army G-1 is the waiver authority.
The Army’s policy requiring less than 10 years of Active Federal Service is based several factors. Individuals who commission as officers with 10 or more years of active federal service already only have 7-8 years of utilization before becoming eligible for retirement at the rank of Major. There is also evidence of medical resiliency issues in older officers, and as we continue to emphasize readiness and deployability, the requirements do not change for our junior leaders, regardless of age.
- QUESTION: How can Families be expected to be retained with the cutting of AFTB, AFAP, among other services offered through ACS? How do senior spouses train/inform the next generation?
- ANSWER: The Army has not eliminated the Army Family Team Building (AFTB) and Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Programs, or other services offered through Army Community Services (ACS). Army leadership understands the value of Family readiness and support services offered through ACS, to include AFTB and AFAP. However, garrison commanders have been given flexibility to decide how services are delivered. Decisions are based on ACS staffing and the needs of the Soldiers and Families within that military community.
Volunteer services offered through AFTB and AFAP may continue to be provided via a face-to-face method at some ACS Centers but may be offered at others through the use of formal/informal partnership agreements, technology-based options, and support from a neighboring garrison staff, or a hybrid approach which incorporates two or more methods.
Regardless of the manner in which each of these services are provided at a garrison, the reduction of staff positions does not eliminate AFAP and AFTB services on an installation. ACS staff will continue to support and encourage senior spouses’ volunteerism to continue AFTB training and informing community members of available services.