Army Leaders Review Family Support Programs


Army leaders want to give more freedom to garrison commanders to decide how to support programs that benefit military families on their installations.

Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning said the service put a hold on all proposed cuts to those programs amid a holistic review. That review is aimed at eventually giving installation leaders more flexibility in how they spend program funds.

Fanning said the Army recognized there was no one-size-fits-all policy for installations. That's why the service halted the proposed cuts, which at some installations had reduced services within the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation organizations. "Every garrison's needs are different," Fanning said.

Other Army leaders, participating in a town hall-style meeting as part of a family forum last week at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting in Washington, agreed.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey said it was his job to advise Fanning and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley. But, he said, it would be irresponsible for him to determine what's right for Army families at any installation.

Milley said the Army would need to take into consideration a number of factors for each installation, including geography, the availability of resources in surrounding communities and needs based on the input from senior commanders at those installations.

At some installations, the services will need to be on post. Other communities may be able to leverage off-post resources through community partnerships.

For more than an hour, Fanning, Milley and Dailey answered questions from Army families in person and via online submissions. Fanning noted it was the only forum at AUSA where all three senior leaders participate, highlighting the importance of family programs.

Those programs have a direct impact on the Army's readiness, Fanning said. They also are part of an important commitment the Army makes to its soldiers and their families.

Milley, who has repeatedly stated the Army's No. 1 priority is readiness, said the programs, which include childcare, drive the ability of the Army to deploy. "This is not an altruistic organization . That's not why we do it, nor is it why we should do it," he said.

Sixty percent of the force is married with children, Milley said. And for most of those troops, their primary concern is their families. A soldier worried about his children's schools, medical care or home issues can't focus on training or fighting, he said. "Everything we do is looked at through the lens of readiness."

In an era of constrained resources, the leaders said they must take a deep look at how the Army funds its programs and what changes can be made. It will require input from troops and their families, as well as placing power in the hands of garrison commanders to tune programs to local needs, Dailey said. "We have to be able to give what we call mission command authority."

One of the most popular programs, and one with a lot of concern from family members, was Army-provided child care. Such programs account for $534 million a year, or more than half of the Army's $1.1 billion Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation budget.

Fanning said the Army has begun extending childcare hours on some installations and is giving commanders flexibility to extend those hours even further.

"We're committed to making sure that you have access to good, quality child care," he said.

But the biggest challenge will come in providing that type of support to the families of National Guard and Army reserve soldiers attending weekend training or annual training. Dailey said those soldiers often are too widely dispersed to provide childcare in any centralized location, such as what is provided on active-duty installations.

Instead, the Army will need to work partnerships with communities and develop unique solutions for each location.

"This is a tough challenge," he said. "There will be extreme costs."

Army leaders said they were committed to continuing to support families, even as budgets tightened and the force continued to draw down. That smaller force means that, even as deployments have become less common, the force and their families are still stressed, Milley said.

In an attempt to remove some of that stress from soldiers, Fanning said the Army was looking at cutting some of the requirements placed on soldiers from their higher commands, from the Army-wide level down to the brigade level.

Milley said too much is being asked of troops. In some cases, the requirements that fall on company commanders and first sergeants fill "12 pages of single-spaced, No. 9 type. It's nuts. It's insane."

In response, Army leaders are instituting a "cease-fire" and "line item vetoes" to remove any requirements not directly associated with readiness. At the same time, Army leaders are looking at spending their budgets in the most effective way possible.

That could mean shifting some responsibilities back onto troops that had been done by outside contractors over the last 15 years, such as manning installation gates. Fort Bragg and other installations have already replaced contracted gate guards with soldiers.

Dailey said garrison commanders must have the flexibility to make those and other decisions, balancing the needs of their installations with the needs of soldiers.

(c)2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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