The Army made significant promises when it unveiled the Army Family Covenant in October 2007. With the covenant, the Army commits to providing Soldiers and families a quality of life that acknowledges their service, sacrifice and dedication. Practically speaking, that means providing programs and services — including family programs, health care, housing, recreation, education and employment opportunities, and child, school and youth services — that build Soldier and family well-being, resilience and readiness.
As the Commanding General of Installation Management Command and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, I have the lead for executing the Army Family Covenant. That is a charge I take on wholeheartedly, delivering programs and services that help Soldiers and families thrive.
Soon after I took my post, the Installation Management Community conducted a holistic review of AFC programs to assess if we have the right programs in place to meet Soldier and Family needs. We wanted to know if there were any gaps in services and if we were delivering services effectively. In short, could Soldiers and families easily get the assistance they need?
What Soldiers and families told us is that they have both too much and too little information on available services. Sometimes they did not know that there is a program to help with a specific need. Sometimes they knew of several programs available through different service providers, but could not tell which would be best for their situation.
We took away from the review that we have the right programs in place, but can do a better job of helping Soldiers and families access those programs. To that end, we began looking at how we can improve access through the source Soldiers and families already turn to for help and answers: Army Community Service centers.
Army Community Service staff do a lot of heavy lifting in delivering on the promises made in the Army Family Covenant. In fiscal 2010, ACS staff had more than 14 million contacts with Soldiers, family members and civilians, through programs such as Mobilization/Deployment Readiness, Relocation Readiness, Financial Readiness, Army Emergency Relief, Employment Readiness, the Army Spouse Employment Partnership, the Exceptional Family Member Program, the Family Advocacy Program, Survivor Outreach Services, Soldier and family Assistance Centers, Army Family Team Building, and the Army Family Action Plan. From its beginning in 1965, when relocation assistance and the lending closet were among its first services, ACS has continued to grow and evolve.
Today, it is often the first place Soldiers and family members go for information, for personal development and for help in an emergency. We want to build on ACS’s strengths and central role in the life of an installation. So, based on feedback from 10 focus groups conducted in October, we have developed several ideas for enhancing and updating ACS’s capabilities and processes. One idea we are looking at is transitioning a number of ACS staff into generalist positions, which will focus on helping Soldiers and family members navigate services. These staff will be cross-trained in all basic ACS services and familiar with other services available across the installation, and will have the tools to be able to do more in-depth assessments of client needs.
With this information, they will be able to help clients not only access the programs that address their immediate concerns, but also take advantage of programs that help them meet longer-term goals.
If clients need specialized assistance, these staff will make sure they see the right person and will follow up until they have gotten the help they need.
Another idea is to decentralize service delivery locations. ACS will continue to deliver services in traditional ACS centers, but they will also move out to units, in/out processing centers, post exchanges, commissaries, Soldier Readiness Processing sites, community centers, off-post locations — wherever they need to go to support Soldiers and Families in their communities. In addition, ACS will increase its delivery of services online through Army OneSource (www.myArmyOneSource.com), to reach all Soldiers and family members regardless of location or component.
We will continue to seek feedback on these and other proposed changes during focus groups I will hold during my upcoming visits to installations. I want to hear from you, Soldiers and family members, about what will work for you, and from your leaders about how to enhance ACS support.
Once you have helped us refine our thinking, we will use your input to design pilot programs at five installations. The pilot programs will run from April to October 2011.
The intent behind the proposals — and behind any change ultimately made permanent — is to ensure that Soldiers and family members can find the right service at the right time, the first time they seek assistance. There is no wrong door for accessing ACS services. No matter whom Soldiers and family members talk with or where they seek services, they have come to the right place. ACS is there for them now, when they are dealing with today’s concern, and tomorrow, as they pursue long-term personal goals. ACS is by no means the only organization on an installation providing services and programs that contribute to the quality of life for Soldiers and families, but it is often the first place Soldiers and families look to. So it is a natural place for the Installation Management Community to look to as well, as we continually seek ways to make the delivery of services as effective as possible. The work of ACS and other quality-of-life service providers is highly visible, tangible proof that the Army is delivering on the promises of the Army Family Covenant.
Because of the importance of those promises, we in the Installation Management Community take our responsibility for the delivery of services very seriously. We are committed to providing a strong, supportive environment. The long-term strength of our all-volunteer Army depends on the well-being of Soldiers and families, but more than that, we owe it to our Soldiers and families, for their on-going service and dedication.