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Dormant Military Family Council Boosts Outreach

A Defense Department advisory committee for family programs is scheduled to meet early next month. It will mark one of the few meetings the committee has had since Congress mandated the meetings be held regularly back in 2008.

The Military Family Readiness Council will meet May 1 to continue its ongoing review of Defense Department programs aimed at family support.

The meeting, which will be held at the Pentagon, marks the third time in the six years since it was ordered by Congress as part of the 2008 National Military Defense Authorization that the council has followed its mandate by holding multiple meetings a year.

The council held two meetings in 2009, one in 2010, and two in 2012. No meetings were held in 2008 or 2011.

The council was formed by Congress to make recommendations about family programming to the defense secretary to monitor military family readiness needs and to assess current family programs and activities, according to the legislation.

In addition to being required by law to hold two meetings a year, Congress recommended that one of the meetings be held outside the National Capitol region. Since the council was ordered in 2008, it has failed to hold more than one meeting three out of six years, a Defense Department spokesman said. A meeting has never been held outside the D.C. area.

Last year, Congress ordered the addition of four more military spouses to the council. In the past, the council included branch representatives, the spouses of senior military leadership, and several representatives from military family organizations such as the National Military Family Association. The four new spouses are meant to represent average military families. Their first meeting was in September.

Adding military spouses based on nominations instead of their husband’s rank has introduced new motivation to make sure the council not only meets but is effective, two of the spouses said. At past meetings the council has spent its time hearing briefings on current programs.

“I hope we can move beyond information sharing and be able to make recommendations,” said Emily Fertitta, a Marine Corps Reserves spouse who was part of the September additions. “I think having the spouses on the council does make a difference. I know all the other spouses who are there are really motivated ... they are not going to be satisfied with just having informational sessions. And I know the spouses have said ‘whenever you need us here we will make it here.’”

The desire to make an impact may be part of what has added traction to an ongoing review of 140 military family programs common to all four branches. The review looks to evaluate the programs.

“I think when I walked in I expected a working group – and the initial (September) meeting was very different from that … It didn’t feel like a meeting, it felt like a briefing,” said Jeanne Benden, who sits on the council representing the Air National Guard. “But I think that’s changing rapidly. I’m seeing with my counterparts that this is something that they are passionate about and want to represent [their services] well.”

Still, critics of the council say it is not doing what it could be to advocate for military families. Some have said a family program review for redundancies is itself redundant since it is already being done elsewhere in the Defense Department.

The council instead should be focused on meeting more often, producing results and making the committees’ workings accessible to military families through the creation of a council website, said Karen Golden, a government relations deputy director at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and an outspoken critic of the council.

“The bottom line is it’s either important or it’s not, and when you fail to meet and when you fail to produce anything substantial, then the clear message to families is that it’s not important,” she said. “Congress had suggested, and we suggested the creation of a website. That is in my mind a low cost, to cost neutral initiative. They need to hear from the program user ‘this is what works for our families.’”

The creation of a council website was suggested by Congress in notes attached to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. A Facebook page has since been founded under the name of the committee, but is privately operated by Jeremy Hilton, a military spouse. The Defense Department has no control or input over it.

An official council website is currently being developed by the Defense Department, Pentagon officials told Military.com. It is not clear when it will be made public.
Members of the public may attend meeting scheduled from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on May 1 Those interested in attending may register with Melody McDonald by calling her at 571–372–0880 or emailing here at FamilyReadinessCouncil@osd.mil by April 19 so an escort can be arranged. They can also submit written statements to the council by email. All statements must be submitted by 5 p.m. on April 12.

Corrections: The original article incorrectly characterized the number of council meetings held per year since 2008. The council held two meetings in 2009, one in 2010, and two in 2012. No meetings were held in 2008 or 2011.

Additionally, the story incorrectly identified the purpose and nature of an ongoing review of programs. The review is examining the effectiveness of military family programs.

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