During this campaign season, it has been hard to miss the politicking over the future of the military and its funding. In these times of budgetary concerns, Senior Army leaders spent a lot of time reassuring AUSA Family Forum attendees of their continued commitment to Family Program resourcing. I imagine those sentiments are being echoed by leaders of all the services.
Officials were quick to say that the 2013 Army budget includes $1.3 billion for soldier and family life programs, more than double the amount in previous years. While recognizing that supporting families is key to maintaining strong volunteer forces, they also noted that the Army has to begin working to prioritize and support the programs that are most effective. As one leader said, “We owe the taxpayers wise and judicial use of our funds.”
A lot of the resource focus will be on reintegration services for soldiers and families, substance abuse, mental health and suicide prevention programs. There is also a push to develop a Soldier for Life initiative that will in effect follow a Soldier through recruitment, assignment (with improved sponsorship programs) through ETS or retirement with revamped transition services and job placement.
But the reality is, our military is getting smaller as the conflicts of the past 11 years end. It’s a natural cycle. Many of the family programs that people have come to rely on may shrink or be wrapped up in other programs as their funding sources – through war dollars – go away. It is not a popular statement to voice, but it still is a fact. Many of the representatives on hand at the Forum were already calling attention to decreased funding at post level for some programs, especially volunteer child care.
It probably seems to military spouses that child care is always the first budget item hit. For an organization that relies so heavily on volunteer support – every May, time is taken to recognize volunteers’ service, often with a “check” presentation equaling the dollar amount in man hours – shouldn’t that be a protected line item? Leaders noted that respite care will not be changed through upcoming deployment cycles, staying at 16 hours a month per child. But voices from the field wondered how programs that rely on volunteers can be effective if those volunteers can’t afford the child care?
There are no easy answers, but I believe everyone out there can have an influence on how future Family Program dollars will be dispersed. As the Army and other services review and consolidate programs, let your leaders know which ones are most valuable to you and which ones can be changed. They will be relying on feedback from military communities to make the tough decisions, so get involved. Share your thoughts here on the Family Programs you can’t live without and those that can be retooled.
I’ll step off my soapbox to highlight a few programs and new initiatives that caught my eye during the AUSA Annual Meeting.
1. Resiliency and my rubber band theory: Resilience was an often repeated theme by Forum speakers. When I think of resilience, I picture a rubber band. It’s in an unbroken circle, not unlike a military unit or family. Reach out and there is always someone there to grab your hand so you are not alone. Stretch the rubber band and it handles an enormous amount of stress - again not unlike the stress of war our military and families have been enduring – without breaking. Let go and it bounces back to face another day, just as our strong, adaptable military members and families do when one mission is done and new orders are received.
Look for a continued focus on resiliency training and programs for our Soldiers, spouses and kids. The Army will be launching a new “Ready-Resilience Campaign” with the goal of making individuals better “whole-istically”, not just helping to fix problems as they show up.
2. Male Spouses are finding their collective voice. I got to meet Wayne Perry, proud Army spouse and co-founder of ‘MANning the Homefront.’ Wayne has been on the forefront of efforts to reach out to male military spouses. He noted that there are about 36,000 male spouses across the services and with more women joining the military, the number will grow. “Think of (units) as a kind of fraternity and female spouse groups as a sorority…male spouses need that type of community.”
Through MANning the Homefront and MachoSpouse.com, Wayne and others are trying to create a Battle Buddy organization for fellow male spouses. “We’re trying to reach male spouses, bringing them together to build resiliency and community,” he explained. You can find MANning on Facebook at ‘MANning the Homefront-Military Style’, or go to www.machospouse.com. It is a great sight with videos from other guys, helpful links to resources, job finding tips and a Male Spouse 101 tab. But the main message is, “Guys, We’re Not Alone!”
3. Sittercity Childcare Program: Next to finding a good hair stylist, finding child care or date night sitters is the hardest thing to do each time military families move. But through Sittercity, military families now have a clearing house for finding reliable child care. Sittercity is an online service connecting families with screened and reviewed caregivers, babysitters, nannies, senior care, pet care, housekeeping, even tutors. Think of it as the ‘Angie’s List’ of family needs. The Department of Defense funds membership in Sittercity for all the services, including Reserve and National Guard, and has helped more than 78,000 military families to date. To activate a membership, go to www.sittercity.com/dod and find more information on the website.
4. www.realwarriors.net This on-line resource is designed to provide tools and tips to help military families through all stages of deployment. You can see video profiles of real military families sharing how they coped and conquered the physical and psychological effects of combat service. There are resource links for the war fighter, spouse and children to build family resilience. It is sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Take advantage of the programs out there. You can find even more listed on MilitaryOneSource and the AUSA Family Programs page.