Every year in October, the Association for the United States Army (AUSA), a private, non-profit educational organization that supports America’s Army-active, National Guard, Reserve, military civilians, retirees, federal government civilians, Wounded Warriors, veterans and family members, gathers in Washington, D.C. for a three-day annual meeting and exposition to bring together those who are associated with the military community, national defense, and security.
Designed to provide subject matter information, discussions, and workshops highlighting the capabilities of the total Army and the full range of industry products and services, it is also one of the strategic communication platforms to educate and inform leadership, government, civic, academic and veteran advocates on Army priorities and issues impacting today’s Army.
All of us who wear the moniker of military spouse know the health and well-being of our families is not only “mission essential” for our service members, but also the concept of “family readiness” has a direct impact on the total force readiness.
“With a force of more than 2.2 million Soldiers and Families, including nearly 500,000 spouses and over 830,000 children,” Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey said, “taking care of all of them is a huge task that requires everyone’s help.”
The AUSA Family Readiness Directorate hosted three military family forums as well as family-focused networking events. These forums provided a venue for military and civilian leadership to address family issues, offer discussion and dialogue on initiatives and programs, and a town-hall style forum with senior Army leaders for participants to ask the questions important to them.
Forum I – The 16 Indicators of Military Family Readiness – Evidence from 2007-2017 (For a really deep dive, you can access the full 276-page report, approved for public release.)
Dr. Stacy Hawkins, principal investigator of the Army Analytics Group Research Facilitation Laboratory, opened the forum with a presentation and overview of their qualitative analysis of 380 published articles from 2007-2017 to identify indicators of family readiness in the contemporary research evidence related to military families. The last research on Army family readiness was 1983-2007.
Published in March of 2018, this updated review of the literature and relevant research identified 16 indicators of family readiness related to the health and well-being of Service members, spouses, and children within five patterns:
- Better physical and mental health, relationships, and parenting styles are strongly linked to social support.
- Relocations disrupt both formal and informal social networks.
- Service members and spouses can affect each other’s mental health.
- Parent’s mental health and family communication problems can hinder healthy family functioning.
- Deployments can lead to problems for children — the well-being of the home-front spouse is critical for the well-being of children.
“What is clear to me from this report,” said Helen Roadarmel, Chief of the Soldier and Family Readiness Division, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, “is that Soldiers carry family responsibilities and issues —and sometimes problems— into the unit. Sixty percent of all Soldiers have a spouse or dependents, in addition to parents, siblings, and others.
“Soldiers and Families value support programs, they value consistency and predictability,” Roadarmel added. “Their trust in the Army and its leaders is influenced by their perception of the care and concern shown to them. The evidence supports continued investment in family programs and services.”
Forum II – An Update on Military Spouse Employment and Financial Readiness (Several articles on this topic were published by OpsLens.com.)
Military spouse employment (or lack thereof) has gained national attention. The Department of Defense, the federal government, and private organizations comprised a panel discussion on what they are doing to support military spouses in their career aspirations. Financial readiness is a crucial component of mission readiness. As military spouses, we know the ups and downs of frequent moves, frequent jobs, and economic uncertainty. Not only is preparing for military retirement and transition a prudent thing to do, but so is maintaining healthy finances while on active duty. It’s hard work to get on track and stay the course, but trust me, you will be glad you did.
Forum III – A Town Hall with Senior Army Leaders
By far, one of the things I enjoyed the most as an active duty spouse was attending Town Halls. It was an opportunity for direct interaction with senior leaders, stakeholders, and key decision makers. The importance cannot be understated. It is the voice of the family directly to senior leadership.
AUSA’s Town Hall with senior leadership included Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley, and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey fielding questions from the audience as well as via social media.
All leaders agreed that if the Army fails to provide adequate quality of life to military families, then soldiers worry and that leads to a readiness issue.
“This really is all about readiness,” Gen. Milley said, adding that “taking care of Soldiers and Families remains a top priority. It’s not just a bumper sticker. It’s not something that we take lightly. It’s very integral to the overall health of the force.”
Another issue raised was lost and/or damaged household goods as PCS moves generally happen during peak moving season in the summer months. Secretary Esper noted that “since about 40 percent of all moves occur in the summer, there has been a proposal that could limit the amount of single Soldiers that move in the summer. In turn, that would put less strain on over-tasked carriers.
“If you just did that, it would take off a significant percentage in the people you’re trying to move during that period,” Esper said. “It may reduce the amount of lost and damaged household goods.”
We experienced outstanding moves with no damaged or lost household goods, and we have experienced moves from hell. It is something that every military family experiences at one time or another. The U.S. Transportation Command, which oversees moving military household goods, must remedy this problem.
Esper also suggested that there should be an Army-run website that tracks moving companies that have performed poorly or have been suspended. “It also sends a message to the companies, who also compete in the commercial sector, that they are on notice, much like what the Better Business Bureau does,” he said. That is an outstanding idea, and one that I hope gets some traction.
As for housing, there are nearly 100,000 Army homes with almost 36,000 built before 1978. “Home inspections for mold, lead, and asbestos has already begun on about 10 percent of the Army’s pre-1970s homes. At the end of the year, the tests will give a good baseline understanding of whether the Army should do more to maintain older homes.” Secretary Esper said that they “will even test for lead in tap water and see if any lead paint on the outside of a home has leaked indoors. Local housing offices should also be readily available to remedy any issues.”
“Our commitment is that if you have any reason of concern, we will be within that home that day to do testing,” Esper said, “and if we come up with a problem and we can’t fix it immediately, we will take active measures to get you out of that home.”
Gen. Milley echoed that sentiment and urged families to take care of themselves. “Nobody wants any of our Soldiers or their Families and little kids to be at risk,” he said. To show how serious he was on the issue, he told soldiers to email him and the other two senior leaders directly if a possible health concern in their home is not being addressed.
“It’s your Family’s health and safety, and the three of us here do not want it jeopardized,” the general said. “So, if you pop in an email into our inbox…I guarantee it will get fixed.”
Can I get a Hooah?