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Web Survey Allows Leaders to Know What's Bugging You

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2003 – All service members have a right to gripe. Now they can do it right to the top.

The Status of Forces Survey allows service members to bring their personnel concerns directly to those in charge of the Defense Department.

The 2002 Active Duty Status of Forces Survey was the first since 1999 and the first conducted on the Internet. The Web will allow DoD planners to survey the military population more often, said David Chu, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.

"The whole idea of going to the Web is so we can much more promptly understand what our people think. My hope is that an even higher percentage wants to say, 'Yes, I want to do that,'" he said. "It's their chance to speak to us. It's their chance to tell us what they are concerned about. This is not just for our interest. This is so we can manage the department well and respond to the concerns of our people."

Overall, the trends in the 2002 survey are up from 1999. Chu said this shows that the pay raises, educational programs and family support monies are starting to be felt.

Overall, 83 percent of service members were satisfied with the job security the military provides, and 68 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with military values, lifestyles and traditions.

Housing (29 percent were favorable), pay (only 38 percent) and family support programs (41 percent) topped the list of areas DoD must concentrate on. Even then, these percentages were higher than in 1999.

"I suspect most people are willing to argue that they should be paid more," Chu said during an interview. "In fact, I always wonder when people say they are satisfied with their pay that there's something wrong with them."

Having more frequent surveys means the department will be able to respond quicker. Also, DoD officials can tailor the survey as they go along. Future surveys will also ask the opinions of reserve component personnel and DoD civilians, he said.

Overall, Chu is encouraged by the survey. "Across the board on a variety of indicators, (service members) are happier with military life now than they were in 1999," he said. "They are happier with their pay, their service and even such issues of moves."

On pay and benefit issues, the survey showed gains in four areas. The biggest jump overall was in satisfaction with basic pay. In 1999, only 22 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their basic pay. In the 2002 survey that number jumped to 38 percent. Those dissatisfied with pay came in at 48 percent, and 14 percent of respondents "didn't care."

Only 23 percent of active duty service members were satisfied with their basic allowance for housing in 1999; it's at 35 percent now. A total of 47 percent were dissatisfied.

Satisfaction with military housing rose only 2 percent -- from 27 to 29 percent. A whopping 47 percent said they are dissatisfied.

Satisfaction with special pays also crept up from 23 percent to 28 percent, but 51 percent of respondents are dissatisfied.

Two interesting answers are in the medical and dental portion of the survey. About 62 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their own medical and dental care. But when the same question was asked concerning their families the percentage dropped to 46 percent.

In quality of life programs, the commissary and exchange benefits were the most popular, with some 67 percent of those surveyed saying they were satisfied. Morale, welfare and recreation services satisfied 61 percent of respondents.

A total of 41 percent said they were satisfied with military family support. Only 16 percent said they were dissatisfied, and fully 43 percent said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

About 41 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the amount of personal and family time, and 33 percent said they were dissatisfied with on-base child care.

While satisfaction grew in all those quality-of-life areas since the 1999 survey, one aspect that didn't was spouse employment and career opportunities. That remained frozen at 32 percent.

Chu said it is not enough to offer just jobs. There must be career opportunities for spouses, and creating them will be a big challenge ahead for the department, he said.

He suggested DoD can do such direct things as emphasize its Priority Placement Program. He said DoD and the State Department would work to see if they can establish a preferential hiring policy between them. But more strategic and long-term steps also are important.

"We have been talking with the people working on base realignment and closure criteria to stress how important our community life is (when considering closure or realignment)," he said.

Chu said military utility is the prime BRAC metric, but a key secondary consideration should be what's it like for a military family in an affected community -- and that includes spousal career opportunities.

In assignments and travel, again, trends are up across the board. A total of 62 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the type of assignments they have received. Just over half said they were satisfied with the frequency of permanent-change-of-station moves.

The survey asked about training, manning and equipment. A total of 56 percent of the service members surveyed said they were well-trained for their missions. Around 20 percent said they felt poorly prepared. About 45 percent said the manning levels were adequate while 31 percent disagreed. Finally, 41 percent said parts and equipment were adequate and 32 percent said they were not.

Half the surveyed said their units are micromanaged and a quarter believes their unit or service has a "zero defect" mentality.

But even with these, satisfaction with the military way of life is up. In the Army, almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their military lives. In the Navy it was 61 percent, and in the Marine Corps, 54 percent. The Air Force had 68 percent respond they were satisfied with military life. Overall, the percentage was 61 percent.

And satisfaction pays off in retention, Chu noted. Overall retention intention is up 8 percentage points from 1999 to 58 percent across the services.

He urged all service members who are chosen to participate in the survey to fill it out. DoD had a return rate of 32 percent, with more than 32,000 service members taking the time to answer the questions.

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