All services work towards improving Army, DOD QOL

Former Marine Kurt Garcia is no different than many of his contemporaries. In his almost 28 years of military service, he made 13 permanent change of station moves, served in the U.S., Asia and Europe, endured numerous long separations from his family, and underwent intense, physically challenging training.  
But he can’t transfer his Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to his 12-year-old son, Dominic, or his 10-year-old daughter, Gabrielle.

Why? Because Garcia retired from the Marine Corps in 2006.
“The GI Bill transferability option is not available to me, even though I served under the qualified period of service of post 9/11,” he said during the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart 2011 Army Family Action Plan conference held Feb. 10-11 at the Swabian Special Events Center.

Service members who retired between Dec. 11, 2001, and July 31, 2009, can only use the education benefit for themselves. But with AFAP, Garcia and other retirees like him may one day find themselves eligible to transfer their benefits to dependents.

Simply put, AFAP is an annual process that lets Soldiers and families say what isn’t working — and what they think will fix it. But in Stuttgart, home of two unified combatant commands, AFAP is open to all services, civilian employees, retirees, and their family members. 

Garcia, the Marine Forces Africa deputy assistant chief of staff for G-1, was one of 58 delegates working to hammer out quality of life issues.

The delegates were assigned to work groups divided by subject: medical and dental, youth affairs, force support, consumer affairs, and community and infrastructure. Over the course of two days, they reviewed and made recommendations on 39 issues of concern that were submitted by community members throughout the year.

The work groups, aided by facilitators, recorders, issue coordinators and subject matter experts, debated the merits of each of the issues in their given subject areas and prioritized them.

Garcia found himself in the force support work group, evaluating 15 issues ranging from reserve and National Guard retirement to a college system for enlisted personnel.
At the end of the first day, Garcia and his fellow delegates agreed to focus on the transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to dependents. While he didn’t submit the issue, it hit close to home.

“The issue originally was about transferability after a service member separates. But I said, ‘Wait a minute, I never had that option.’ Everyone in the room realized it wasn’t fair,” Garcia said. 

His group spent the better part of the second day on the technical intricacies of an AFAP issue — figuring out how to describe the problem, proposing solutions and fine-tuning the language. “It’s tough,” Garcia said. “Everyone has an opinion on what they think ought to be said.

“You have to clarify certain words to make sure you get the meaning of the word to drive your point home. You have to be short and concise in your statements that not only clarify, but quantify, your message.”

In the end, the Stuttgart delegates presented 11 issues to garrison leadership.
“We will look at these issues at our first AFAP steering committee meeting on March 7,” said Lisa Ordukaya, the Army Community Service AFAP manager.  
The committee consists of the garrison commander, subject matter experts, ACS personnel and a senior spouse.

Issues that cannot be resolved at the local level will be pushed higher.
“What we cannot solve here will be elevated to the regional Installation Management Command Europe-level,” said Ordukaya.
There, the issues will be reprioritized, with the top issues eventually rising to the Army level, she added.

But whether at USAG Stuttgart, Heidelberg or Washington D.C., “Ultimately the goal is to get these issues to Army leadership for resolution,” Ordukaya said.

You can track the steering committee’s progress of this year’s local AFAP issues at Click on “Army Community Service,” then “Army Family Action Plan.” Issue submission forms are also available on the website.