DoD Conference Tackles Family Issues, Support Needs
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
PHOENIX, Ariz., Aug. 23, 2000 When the Pentagon's top personnel and readiness official visits troop bases around the world, he wants to see more than training ranges and flight lines.
Bernard D. Rostker wants to see housing areas, schools and family centers.
"If you want to make my day, take me to a child care center," he said here Aug. 22.
The undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness addressed more than 800 active duty and reserve component family support specialists on the opening day of the DoD Family Readiness Conference. The four-day conference, featuring syndicated columnist Heloise, financial expert Ric Edelman, and other noted subject experts, focused on community, economic and family well-being.
Rostker announced DoD initiatives to increase in-home child care and to provide Women, Infants and Children program benefits to military families stationed outside the United States.
The department "must put the same focus and creativity in increasing the in-home care system as we have done for our much-sought-after child care centers," he said. This would help meet the shortage of child care and provide employment opportunities for spouses, he said.
In-home care is "the largest untapped portion of our child care program," Rostker said. "It needs to be developed."
He told conferees of DoD's intent to extend federal Women, Infants and Children program benefits to service members on duty outside the United States under an amendment to Title 10, U.S. Code. WIC provides participants with supplemental foods and nutrition education.
The new WIC Overseas has been designated as a TRICARE program, Rostker said. Focus groups will convene at several stateside locations soon to identify issues likely to face WIC providers and beneficiaries overseas.
He said DoD plans to run a test pilot at five overseas locations selected by each of the services by January 2001 -- two in Europe, two in the western Pacific and one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The WIC Overseas program is expected to be fully implemented by summer 2001.
Rostker and his wife arrived in Phoenix after a 23-hour flight from Istanbul, Turkey. Noting that this was their 13th trip around the world, the former Army undersecretary and assistant Navy secretary stressed the importance of visiting troops and their families.
"It is all too easy to get caught up in Washington, dealing with my colleagues and with Congress," he said. "But that's not real world. The world is in places like Singapore, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Rota (Spain), Kosovo, Bosnia."
Last week, the Rostkers met support troops and an infantry squad manning a checkpoint in the Sinai, he said, "where it's 130 degrees in the shade."
"That's where we are," the undersecretary said. "That's what we do. That's how we maintain peace in the 21st century. The only way you can appreciate it is to get out and see it."
During past base visits, Rostker said, he objected when his wife was supposed to visit schools and he was supposed to visit service members. "I felt that seeing quality of life programs was just as important as seeing troops."
With more than 50 percent of the force married, the military has changed its attitudes about families, Rostker stressed. Defense leaders are committed to helping military families "manage the demands of military life because personal well-being and job performance are so strongly linked."
He said DoD's goal is to build strong communities that create cohesion and career commitment. He listed DoD's eight guiding principles for quality of life:
- Improve standards of living through continuing to fund raises in base pay and working to achieve financial stability for all military members.
- Build more predictability in military life.
- Provide modern communities with quality health care and housing.
- Increase educational opportunities.
- Work toward parity in quality of life programs across installations, services and components.
- Build better means of communication between troops and their families.
- Revitalize a sense of community within the Total Force.
- Support mission readiness through reserve component family readiness.
As an example of the military's emphasis on family support, Rostker cited a family readiness center in a converted mess hall at Fort Hood, Texas. He described the rows of desks, banks of computers, video conferencing cameras and private areas where spouses and families can meet with counselors.
"They had created a focus point where families could get together and have video conferences with their spouses all the way in Bosnia," he said. "I've been pushing the services to create similar family readiness centers … a central place where families are welcome, children can be taken care of, where the spouse can talk to the service member wherever he's deployed, whether it's in the middle of the ocean or in Bosnia."
The Phoenix family conference followed the recent first DoD Military Families and Senior Enlisted Advisers forums at the Pentagon. Saying a second family forum is slated for next year, Rostker recapped four suggestions presented by families at the earlier forums.
- Conduct more family symposiums.
- Offer financial management training at first duty stations and assign unit financial specialists.
- Form family support groups to include spouses and single service members.
- Regionalize family support programs to be more cost effective and eliminate redundancy.
A change in attitude on family issues was evident at the Senior Enlisted Advisers Forum, Rostker noted. Given a choice, about 40 percent of the senior enlisted advisers selected workshops on child care, military exchanges and other topics previously considered to be primarily of interest to spouses.
"Those senior advisers knew, as does the secretary, that without the support of families, we have truly a hollow military," Rostker said. "We do need the support of all of our families. It's a commitment that goes both ways."