New Chairman Aims to Help More Mobile Military Children
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2004 Retired Army Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz said his motivation for accepting the chairmanship of the Military Child Education Coalition's board of directors "is our kids military kids."
The Military Child Education Coalition can't do all the great
and wonderful things it wants to do unless people step up and say, "I'll help,"
retired Army Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz said during an American Forces Press
Service interview at the coalition's recent sixth annual conference in Colorado
Springs, Colo. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Schwartz recently succeeded the organization's founding chairman, retired Army Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor.
"I watched my four children struggle through the transition of one school or another," said Schwartz, who was commander of 3rd Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, when his wife, Sandy, and two of her friends became co-founders of MCEC. "I watched them move. My one daughter moved four times in high school every year for four years. And I watched the difficulties they experienced. My wife and I anguished with this.".
In 1997, Schwartz's wife, Sandy, teamed up with Mary Keller, an assistant superintendent of the Killeen Texas Independent School District, and Taylor to co-found MCEC to help mobile military children. Taylor also is a former commander of 3rd Corps and Fort Hood.
Schwartz said he listened as the group said things like, "We have to do something. We have to be proactive, and we have to step up to the plate and help our kids. They can't do this on their own. The system is not responding to their needs."
Schwartz also quoted the MCEC's co-founders as saying, "We can make it better. We can make a difference."
"And, of course, when you have a wife that's motivated like that, husbands follow," the four-star general said with a chuckle. He said his wife stayed involved with MCEC, even when they were stationed in South Korea. "She has been very actively involved since I retired," said Schwartz, who retired in May 2002 after serving as commander of the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command and commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
Schwartz recalled that when Taylor and Keller called and asked if he'd accept the chairmanship, he said to himself, "This is my chance to give back. This is my time to step in. Even though I'm really busy and doing a lot of other things, I can't say no. I must step up. It's my time to make a difference."
He said he accepted the position because he wanted to make a difference for military families and their children.
MCEC's growth and acceptance by the military services, school districts across the country and the Department of Defense Education Activity is phenomenal, said Schwartz, a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient, who was a platoon leader and company commander with the 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam from August 1968 to October 1969.
The Army started MCEC, but quickly it became, "Hey, this isn't just about the Army," Schwartz said. "This is about military kids and it doesn't matter from which service. Today, everybody wants to be joint. MCEC represents every military child, and every service is represented."
Schwartz noted that MCEC is making a difference across all of the services. "We're growing leaps and bounds," he said, "and they're all becoming more and more enthusiastic about what MCEC does, including the Coast Guard."
Getting MCEC off the ground was important to mobile military children and their families, Schwartz said. "That was the genesis of why we started. We realized there was a need for our kids, and they couldn't do it on their own. Somebody in our positions higher up had to step up and say, 'Hey, we'll help!' he said.
The Schwartzes didn't have to look far to see the problem needed action. "We saw the cry in our own household," said the father of a son and three daughters. "Our kids cried out to us every time they moved. Our kids told us, 'This hurts!' Our kids said, 'Hey, this isn't fair.' Our kids said, 'Hey, I don't know how to do this.' Or, 'This is harder than I thought.'"
Schwartz said that's because the children weren't prepared to move to the next school or do the thing asked of them. "Somebody's got to step in and help," he said. "And it couldn't just be the parents any more."
Sometimes, some of the challenges faced by military families are bigger than what individual parents can solve, he noted. Consequently, an organization was needed that could tap into the highest leadership across all the services. He said that's particularly true now because the way of the future is for more than one service to be housed on an installation.
"So, we realized that everybody had to play in this to make a difference," he said. "We had to help our kids. And that's why we did it."
The reason for him and his wife getting involved with MCEC wasn't based solely on family experiences, he noted. "It was an aggregate of our experience," Schwartz noted. "We watched other families, and I focused on the family as a commander. I knew that if we were going to have an Army of the future, that it had to reach back and touch families." And touch the families, he did. When he was commander of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and Fort Carson, Colo., from October 1993 to December 1995, Schwartz started what he called "family time."
"I had some resistance, but I started family time, where at 1500 (3 p.m.) on Thursdays, you went home," Schwartz said. "There was resistance, but I said, 'Family counts.' That was the motto. And kids make a difference. And I stuck to that."
When he was at Fort Hood, Schwartz said, he made it mandatory that soldiers would be let off duty to go to parent-teacher conferences. "I'm not bragging about it, I'm just telling you these things that we did that we didn't know would lead to MCEC," he said.
There was resistance to that policy, too, but Schwartz stuck to his guns. "You had to redefine what 'soldier' meant," he said. "It meant that we take care of families. It meant that we help our kids in school. And so, as I did those kind of things, it made a difference."
Schwartz said a young Army specialist told him one day that his wife said family time made a tremendous difference in their lives. She said family time allowed them to do things with their children that they wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. The wife said her husband worked 18 hours a day, so there was no time for him to interact with his family. Family time is the one day they could eat together and be together, which made a difference in their lives.
"Well, it started to make me realize that, hey, this does make a difference," Schwartz said. "It's the kind of spirit I guess that family counts, kids count, family makes a difference -- that's what MCEC stands for. Kids do count. But organizations like MCEC have got to step up and help them. They can't do it on their own."
Schwartz said his first goal as chairman is to help market MCEC to get its name and goals better known. This, he said, would result in more military families knowing were to go for help for their children.
"Right now, you ask some people about MCEC and they'll say, 'I never heard of MCEC.' What are you talking about?'" he said. "If you go out to industry and communities and you ask them, 'Hey, can you help with MCEC?' They'll say, 'What's that?' I want to get the name known," the general said. "I want people to understand what it does, the power of MCEC and the influence that it has on the system and our kids, and the difference that it's making."
Schwartz said he's proud to take on the board chairmanship. "This is an incredible team," he said. "The board that we have that's serving us is incredible. These are selfless people serving others. There are lots of reasons why they shouldn't be doing this. And they're doing it. They don't get any pay; it's just payback for them."