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DoD Explores Quality Of Life Improvements

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 1998 – Military and civilian leaders gathered here recently to find ways to improve service members' quality of life.

DoD hosted its second annual Quality of Life Research Symposium at Georgetown University in December. Several group discussions focused on using technology to improve military quality of life.

"To retain the high-caliber military force we have today, each of us must be in tune with who they are and meet their needs," said Rudy de Leon, DoD undersecretary for personnel and readiness. "When their needs shift, we must respond."

De Leon noted one way technology already meets the family needs of deployed service members: The 5,600 sailors on the USS George Washington in the Persian Gulf have access to 600 computers installed in July. Each sailor and Marine received Internet training and a personal account.

"Six weeks after leaving Norfolk, the computer network has recorded over 300,000 messages," de Leon said. "Email is a big boost to morale. People can have more focus and be in touch with their families."

As the military adapts to changing technology and the needs of present service members, it's also sizing up new recruits.

"Recruiting has been challenging over the past several years," said Fred Pang, then-DoD assistant secretary for force management policy. Some attribute the problem to the current low inflation and high employment rates, according to a recent article in the Army's Recruiter Journal. Conventional wisdom is a good economy equals bad recruiting; this is not necessarily so, the journal article said.

Jennifer James, an urban cultural anthropologist and conference speaker, believes the military can attract quality recruits. What it takes, she said, is a compelling story with elements of complexity, sophistication and effectiveness.

Recruiters are the story tellers, she said, and the military has been telling a very old, honorable story for a long time. Despite the fact that some of the story's elements are changing, "you'll have no trouble telling it to the country," James said.

Just as important as knowing the story is knowing the audience -- potential recruits, she continued.

"[They] are well-educated, always seeking more education, have a deep belief in democratic processes, are moderate politically," James said. "This group is not that willing to be mobile. Interesting enough for a wild-eyed, digital-connected group, they want to put down roots. They want to be connected to the community and the family."

De Leon recognized both educational and employment opportunities are key competitors as the military looks at recruiting an all-volunteer force and maintaining it.

"A very competitive environment means we have to offer the opportunity to serve, to get education and training and, of course, the opportunity to have good family life as well," de Leon said.

"Unique in many respects, the military community is really a microcosm of American society and the American dream," he said. "They want good housing, medical care, opportunities for education, them and their families.

"Quality of life is a priority on par with improving readiness and modernization for the armed forces."

Other speakers presented their futurist views on such topics as heath care, joint-service quality of life, education and housing.

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