Army Leaders to Base Commanders: Pick Your Own Family Programs

Making crafts, dancing and having a good time with their parents help the children burn off some of the energy created by their meal. (Photo Credit: Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)

Army base commanders are being given the freedom to choose which military family programs to keep at their base and which to downsize as part of a new strategy, officials said.

The idea is to make sure families get what they need despite budget cuts, service leaders said Monday at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.

"I think what we're really trying to do right now is look at this from a holistic perspective of what services we need to be providing," Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander of the Army's Installation Management Command said in an interview with "We've got to get the chain of command and everyone involved in this process."

Under the new strategy, Army base commanders are given the freedom to add funds to programs on their base that local families like and use, officials said. Previous family program plans left every base with a large variety of programs, many of which were not heavily utilized. But as the Army tightens its belt, officials have looked for ways to make cuts without doing away the most popular and effective offerings, Halverson said.

Choosing which programs to continue on each base means examining which best promote force and family readiness and offering base officials options, he said.

"You want to make sure there are certain programs that really do add to the direct readiness," Halverson said. "Then those we want to be able to tailor are really based on ‘what are the needs at each base?'"

The command is also working to expand programs to meet the needs of a wide variety of demographics on each base, he said. The Master Resiliency program, for example, which is traditionally offered to spouses and soldiers, is being retooled into a program for children through Army Child and Youth Services.

Continuing a variety of Army family programs despite cuts is a "moral issue," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said during one of the conference's family forums.

"If we're going to ask individual soldiers to do very important and often dangerous things we know there's an effect on their family," he said. "You can't just drive a wall between the solder and his or her loved ones."

The Army annually devotes $1.2 billion to Army family programs, McHugh said, up from $600 million six years ago.

Still, if the federal spending caps known as sequestration continue, leaders will need to make major cuts to all programs, including the family ones, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during the forum.

"If we continue down the sequestration route we are going to have to make some really, really hard decisions," he said. "And programs will end up either being cut completely or they'll be prioritized to a point that they'll be funded at much less a rate as they are right now."

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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