Cragin Talks 'New Age' Contract, Family Needs
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
PHOENIX, Ariz., Aug. 23, 2000 It is critically important that defense leaders understand issues affecting reserve component families and how to deal with them, according to Charles Cragin, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.
Prior to the post-Cold War drawdown, DoD and the services paid little attention to reserve family programs, because those personnel usually weren't away from home long enough for separation to be a problem, he told attendees at the DoD Family Readiness Conference here Aug. 22. Cragin himself served nearly 37 years in the Navy Reserve and is the spouse of a current reservist.
"I can tell you I went religiously to my drills two days a month, 14 days in the summertime," he said. "I knew in my heart of hearts that unless the Russians came rolling through the Fulda Gap, I would never be called to active duty. That attitude was prevalent. No one needed to worry about the reserve families unless the 'big one' happened.
"But something happened," he said. "In this decade, we downsized this force by a million men and women -- 700,000 out of the active components and 300,000 out of the reserve components. Then, all of a sudden, we said, 'Hey, we're a million fewer, but now we've got more missions. And the transformation began."
The nation began amending its contract with the reserve components, Cragin said. "We didn't necessarily tell them we were amending it, but we amended it."
In Florida recently, Cragin said, the commander of a low- density, high-demand civil affairs unit showed him the unit crest. In the middle, it said, "Send Us." The commander told him they originally had thought the phrase was Latin, but realized after about three deployments that it wasn't.
"And he said, 'They kept sending us,'" Cragin quipped.
The nation is now using the reserve force entirely differently, he said. "I like to say the word is 'reserve,' but now the emphasis is on a different syllable. It's re- 'serve,' because these men and women are re-serving on a regular basis."
When George Bush called up the reserves for Desert Storm in 1990, newspapers throughout America ran banner headlines, he said. "If we were to do that today every time the president called up the reserves, we would have that headline indelibly imprinted in every newspaper every single day.
Today, guardsmen and reservists serve in Bosnia, Kosovo and Southwest Asia as a result of three presidential call-ups. "We have cycled about 40,000 members of the Guard and Reserve through Bosnia since 1995. They're being called up for periods up to nine months," Cragin said.
He said he would soon visit the Sinai because DoD officials have recommended including reserve component personnel among the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping rotations there.
The new age contract turned reserve affairs officials' attention to family readiness.
"The challenge is even greater when you're dealing with families who don't have that security blanket of living inside the fence line of a military installation," he said. In one instance, Cragin said, he visited a unit whose families live five states away from the headquarters. In Bosnia, he said, he encountered a unit from Maryland that had a member whose family lived in Indiana.
"We need to think 'out of the box' all the time, because 50 percent of the families of America's military live all the time in the civilian communities," he said.
DoD is looking at ways to maintain uninterrupted health and dental care for National Guard and reservists, for example. He told of a woman he met who had learned her family could not get dental coverage while her husband was deployed for 270 days because he fell short of a policy requiring two years' active service.
"They told her, 'Sorry," Cragin said. "Well, 'sorry' just isn't good enough. We changed that policy."
He said many reserve component personnel have told him no when he's asked if their spouses and children have ID cards. "That's the first step toward starting the conclave of family readiness," he said. "If they don't get this first initial entry into the system, they're being ignored.
"Reserve families are unique in their geographic dispersion and their remoteness to military installations," he said. As a result, reserve affairs officials and DoD's Office of Family Policy formed a partnership to improve family readiness, he added.
They've developed a "Guide to Reserve Family Benefits" downloadable from the Internet at http://dod.mil/ra. They've also developed a strategic action plan through 2005. They're turning to e-mail and other technology to improve communication lines. They're looking at ways to increase predictability.
"The most telling point about our little booklet that we put out about six months ago is that already it has been copied off our Web site over 150,000 times," Cragin said. "That tells me that there was a crying need for this sort of information that wasn't being met."
DoD officials recognize "you can't really have readiness and personal readiness unless you have family readiness," he concluded. "Families are inexorably entwined with the men and women who serve America."