DoD Spotlights Quality of Life
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 3, 1997 Pentagon officials are putting more money into community support programs and studying ways to make military lifestyles more consistent across the services.
The military departments are addressing quality of life needs in DoD's proposed fiscal 1998 budget, DoD officials said. In some cases, they have increased funds for high priority quality of life programs such as child care and fitness.
Navy and Air Force have added $20 million to their child care budgets. For tuition assistance, the president's budget request includes $257 million for the Department's Voluntary Education Program. DoD's overall increase for morale, welfare and recreation programs is $45 million.
Increased financial support for community programs is proof of DoD's continued focus on giving service members and their families a decent quality of life, said Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant defense secretary for personnel support, families and education.
DoD cut about $10 million from transition assistance programs, Becraft said, but overall, the department has maintained a stable level of funding for quality of life initiatives. Consistent funding is critical, she said. Funds can't be added one year and taken away the next if the military is to continue offering necessary programs.
A task force set up in 1994 by then-Defense Secretary William Perry sparked DoD's campaign to improve service members' and military families' quality of life. The spotlight will stay on quality of life under Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Becraft said. The new secretary said he intends to carry on Perry's legacy. Cohen ranks quality of life with readiness and modernization as his top priorities.
Becraft said Perry focused heavily on improving barracks as well as family housing, emphasizing the need to balance family support programs with programs for single service members. Today, and in the budget, the focus is on providing child care and new parent support programs for families. DoD is also stressing fitness centers, libraries and tuition assistance programs, which single service members have said in surveys they need, she said.
Military officials are expanding anti-family violence programs and conducting pilot youth and spouse employment projects at more than 30 locations worldwide, she said. Pilot programs at bases in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego, Calif., will soon help spouses develop "transportable" small businesses.
DoD officials used an innovative approach to promote cooperation among community officials to deal with problems such as teenage gang violence and a lack of spouse employment, Becraft said. Installation officials compete for start-up money to set up and run support programs for three years. Competition criteria required family support officials, commanders, health services, law enforcement and other agencies to play a part in the program. After three years, local program officials must seek local funds to continue.
DoD officials are using the World Wide Web to link military communities around the world, Becraft said. Most of DoD's 284 family centers are linked by intranet and Internet sites. Relocating service members can use home computers to explore spouse employment opportunities, housing markets and other family support services at bases worldwide.
DoD Dependent Schools superintendents recently held their first overseas video teleconferences, Becraft said. Plans call for putting more advanced technology into DoD schools, thereby broadening military students' learning opportunities, she said. "This is an investment in our future," Becraft said. "Fifteen percent of our adolescents intend to join the military, and another 30 percent say they are considering it."
Surveys indicate fitness centers and libraries are the most popular morale, welfare and recreation facilities, Becraft said. DoD officials are developing training standards for fitness center personnel, she said. "We have a very fit, young force. We need to be sure our people are trained so they can properly assist people using weights and other fitness equipment."
DoD libraries are also under the quality of life spotlight, Becraft said. Some are reminiscent of the 1950s and need to be upgraded with more advanced computer systems, she said.
DoD's Quality of Life Executive Committee ensures military lifestyle issues stay on the Pentagon's front burner, according to Becraft. Each service briefs the committee on budget allocations for their quality of life programs. A key challenge now facing DoD officials, she said, is providing a consistent quality of life throughout the services.
Peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and other joint deployments have highlighted differences in pay and benefits, Becraft said. When soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines share the same quarters and duties, policy comparisons are inevitable, she said.
DoD officials are studying how to give equitable benefits to military members serving side by side, she said.
Differences may also exist between one command and another within the same service, Becraft said. "A soldier from one command and a soldier from another command serving together may get paid differently," she said. "While it may make sense to each individual command, it makes no sense to the service members who are doing the same work and undergoing the same hardships."
Differences in the amount of tuition assistance provided by the services are a big equity issue, Becraft said. DoD has formed a study group to standardize tuition assistance benefits across the services, she said.
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