If you've never attended an AUSA Annual Meeting, it's a fantastic event. Today I attended a Military Family Forum titled, "Army Families, The Strength Behind the Soldier." Although this conference is Army-Centric, many of the issues discussed in the forum would resonate with spouses of all branches.
Today's forum featured General and Mrs. Casey, among others. General Casey mentioned that Secretary Gates enjoys interaction with Army spouses because, according to Secretary Gates, they "always speak their mind." Today was no exception. The spouses in attendance took the opportunity to candidly respond to General Casey's questions, and to ask questions of him.
When General Casey stated that the last of the soldiers on 15-month rotations come home this month (or next) there was booming applause throughout the hall. He also stated that the Army is not going to give up on their goal of having soldiers deployed for 12 months/home for 24 months by 2011.
In my opinion, the B-I-N-G-O moment came when General Casey mentioned that during his travels and meetings with Army spouses, he often hears, "[W]e don't need a bunch of new, fancy programs, we need you to fund what you have and stick with them."
General Casey went through a laundry list of issues and asked the audience to let him know "how we are doing" in the following areas:
Virtual FRGs - Lots of Boos
Increase accessibility to quality healthcare - Some Boos
Healthcare once you get in - So So Response
Military Family Life Consultants - Positive Response
Improving Soldier and Family Housing - Tepid Response
Expanding education and employment opportunities for family members - More thumbs down than thumbs up
New GI Bill - Lots of Applause
Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts - Good Applause
General Casey went through the tenants of The Army Family Covenant, then took questions from the audience members. Many of the questions centered around educating new soldiers, recruiters and commanders as to the value and benefit of family support and family programs.
It's clear these FRG leaders want soldiers to be better educated about family support programs. General Casey commented, "The Army is a family, you're joining a family and you need to figure out how to become involved and stay involved."
One spouse wanted early education to dispel the notion that FRGs are nothing but "gossip groups" which are unhelpful. General Casey responded that he can't fix how people think about FRGs, they are what you make them, something we've discussed in depth here and at our LIVE events on many, many occasions. This comment received applause. He later added that "It is the commanders job to build the family support team, not to delegate it."
Kudos to General Casey for listening to the concerns of Army families and soliciting honest feedback. It was a lively, high-energy event.
Mrs. Casey spoke eloquently about her love for the Army family and her pride in our resilience. She also said that if you had asked her husband five years ago if we could sustain this (constant deployment) pace, he would have said no, then added "but we have and the reason is because of you."
I was fortunate enough to grab about two minutes with Mrs. Casey. I used that time to thank her for taking time to chat with SpouseBUZZ. If you've never heard the interview, click here. She was a fantastic guest. Today Mrs. Casey said, "let's do it again," so I'll get to work on that....
"Geographically Disbursed" families were not left out of today's forum. I sat through an insightful and instructive presentation by Dr. Lyn Heirakuji, Deputy Secretary of the Army for Personnel Oversight. The presentation was comprehensive and contained a lot of revealing data. I'm requesting a copy of this presentation to post here at SpouseBUZZ. Many of you will find this interesting and helpful. More to follow.
I have some great photos, but I'm having issues uploading them. As soon as that's resolved (which may be when I return home), I'll post some photos from AUSA.