Despite defense cuts, Army still committed to families

Four years ago this month, the Army announced the Army Family Covenant, which promised to provide Soldiers and families a quality of life commensurate with their service.

To help Soldiers and families stressed by years of war, the Army substantially increased funding for programs in areas such as Soldier and family services, behavioral health, housing, child care, education and employment.

Today, headlines about defense budget cuts are prompting people to ask whether the Army is going to keep its promises. The short answer is yes. Leaders change and situations change, but the Army’s commitment to Soldiers and families endures.

Under the AFC, the Army developed and enhanced a range of programs that build Soldier and family strength, resilience and readiness. These programs include Survivor Outreach Services, Child, Youth and School Services, New Parent Support, the Military Spouse Employment Program, Strong Bonds and the Wounded Warriors Sports Program.

Under the AFC, the Army has provided new and renovated housing for thousands of families and single Soldiers, and constructed more than 150 new child care and youth centers.

The Army has increased the number of Military Family Life Consultants, who provide confidential non-medical counseling for Soldiers and families, and the number of behavioral health care providers  who provide behavioral health services before, during and after deployment.

Under the AFC, the Army has worked hard to reach the whole Army family, including geographically dispersed Soldiers and family members. Toward that end, the Army supports a number of services away from installations, such as community-based child care and Army National Guard Family Assistance Centers, and provides Army OneSource, which enables 24/7 access to information and services regardless of location.

At a time when the Army is restoring its balance, the AFC has been the catalyst for enhancing and standardizing the quality of support for Soldiers and families. And now, it is time to ensure our investment has made a difference in the lives of Soldiers and families.

Program review has been built into the Army Family Covenant from Day One. It has always been part of the AFC plan to assess program effectiveness, consolidate and make adjustments to ensure there is no overlap or gaps between programs.

The current fiscal situation does not change our course, but it does put more gas in our tank. It intensifies the need to streamline and make sure we continue to provide the most valuable programs.

For the programs under the AFC umbrella, the majority of which are run by Installation Management Command, customer feedback is a critical part of our ongoing evaluation.

We gather customer feedback partly by looking at which services are used most often and partly by asking customers about their experiences through garrison focus groups and surveys such as the Army OneSource Army Family Covenant survey, just completed Sept. 1.

We will be asking for feedback again in January, when Soldiers, family members, civilians and retirees will receive a survey on their needs, usage and satisfaction with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs. I urge everyone to take this and every other opportunity to tell us about the programs and services that are valuable to you. Your feedback impacts decisions about programming.

Like every other government organization, every business and every family, we are taking a close look at our use of resources during this time of fiscal uncertainty. We have to determine the most efficient, most effective ways to reach out to the entire Army family and provide support in the areas of greatest need.

But we are starting from a clear, non-negotiable bottom line: The Army will keep its promise to Soldiers and families.