DoD Updates Military Family-Support Programs
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2004 Defense Department military family-support programs are being reshaped or modernized to become more efficient and to reflect today's force, DoD's top family policy official said.
With November celebrated as Military Family Month, it's an especially appropriate time to highlight how DoD supports military families, John Molino, the deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, noted during a Nov. 18 Pentagon interview.
The department, he noted, has been evaluating its family-support programs, many of which were designed back in World War II days, when far fewer troops were married than today.
As a result, DoD is "modernizing those programs that are still good," Molino explained, "and bringing new programs, leveraging technology where we can, to make our programs more effective and more efficient and better for servicemembers and their families."
For example, he said, there's Military OneSource, the free, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week conduit where active duty and Guard and Reserve military family members can find information on parenting and childcare, tips on military life and relocation, work and education programs, and more. Military OneSource can be accessed via the Internet.
The program is also available by telephone: from the United States, (800) 342- 9647; International toll free, (800) 3429-6477; or International collect, (484) 530-5947.
Molino noted that military families rank childcare as a top priority. "Childcare is very important," Molino observed, noting that is "one of the issues that always comes up" during meetings with military families and deployed military members.
"We are constantly working to try to keep childcare affordable" as the department strives to provide facility capacity to meet servicemembers' childcare needs, he said.
DoD has invested much money and emphasis in recent years to improve its military childcare programs, Molino said. DoD's childcare system is the world's largest employer-supported childcare program, he noted, and is "recognized as a model for the nation" and the world.
Providing good childcare for servicemember families is an excellent investment, Molino pointed out, because it supports troop readiness and retention.
Employment issues also concern spouses of military members, Molino noted. Patterned after the successful "Troops to Teachers" program, the new "Spouses to Teachers" program is designed to assist military spouses in becoming public school teachers.
"Why not use these same great spouses, who reflect the profiles of our servicemembers, and encourage them to consider teaching as a career?" Molino said.
Consequently, he said, DoD has organized a pilot "Spouses to Teachers" program in six states with the highest concentrations of military members.
Another hot-button issue, Molino reported, involves communications between deployed servicemembers and their families. During his visits with servicemembers assigned stateside and those deployed overseas, including troops serving in Iraq, Molino said, "the first issue that comes up is the ability to communicate with the family."
DoD employs technology in maintaining communications between deployed servicemembers and their families, Molino noted, by providing Internet-linked e-mail and video facilities, low-cost telephone banks, and use of private sector-donated phone cards.
"We have tried to do what we can to make communications easier and more affordable" for deployed servicemembers and their families, Molino said. For example, he noted, DoD has forwarded live video telecasts of high school graduations of servicemembers' children who lived in Europe to several areas in Iraq where military parents were deployed.
And, Molino said, videotapes or DVDs of those graduation ceremonies were also provided to servicemembers deployed to Iraq. Those programs, he said, were "very well received" and appreciated by servicemembers.
More than half of the active, Guard and Reserve force is married, Molino pointed out, which makes it imperative that the department solicit and employ suggestions from servicemembers and their families to improve quality of life.
A related Army initiative in the works involves extending soldiers' stateside duty-tour lengths to effect more stability for families, he said.
Molino said DoD supports military families so servicemembers "can concentrate on their mission." And when servicemembers can perform their jobs properly and well, Molino pointed out, that's "the best insurance for their safe return home."