Department Launches Online Sponsor Program
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2010 The Defense Department has launched an online sponsor training and resource tool intended to boost the quality of the decades-old sponsor program and better assist relocating servicemembers and their families, a defense official said.
The sponsor program connects incoming servicemembers with a trained sponsor, typically a servicemember of similar rank and job position, at the gaining installation. Sponsors operate as the unit’s “welcome wagon,” assisting families with everything from lodging and schools to spouse employment opportunities and housing, explained Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s office of family policy/children and youth.
Previously, the sponsor program was “hit or miss” across the services, Thompson noted. The mandatory program is run, not at the service or base level, but the unit level, she said, and as a result, the quality of training and program management varied significantly.
Now, through the e-Sponsorship Application and Training site, or e-SAT, leaders can ensure all sponsors are uniformly trained and equipped to provide top-notch assistance to families, she said.
The site offers sponsors a one-stop-shop resource for information, including training, links to relocation resources and an e-mail function designed to facilitate communication between sponsors and incoming families.
“It’s a fact of life that over a military lifecycle, a family will move every two to three years,” Thompson said. “That’s a lot of upheaval. Our families need support to make sure each move goes smoothly.”
A spouse, for instance, who is looking for an area dry cleaner or handyman, can go online and ask the sponsor for recommendations.
“It’s always helpful to be connected to someone who knows the area,” Thompson said.
The sponsor, she said, also can create a quick connection between the family and their relocation manager, who supports the relocation process and adds another layer of support.
To ensure the program runs smoothly, the application allows unit leaders to review the information flow between sponsor and newcomer, and to intervene if necessary, Thompson said.
“We tried to produce something that will be very helpful to our families and sponsors,” she said. “Before, there may have been training, but we didn’t know what that training included or whether it was effective. Now, there’s a learning objective and the information that sponsors need to better support the individual needs of families.”
Officials “soft launched” the program in March, and since then more than 10,600 sponsors have taken the online training. “And that’s without advertising,” Thompson said, noting that the success points to a clear need.
“We are learning how to leverage technology better than ever before,” she said, while boosting efficiency in the process.
“It avoids each service having to go out and create its own program,” Thompson said. “Whether you’re at a joint base or dealing with a different service, you’re getting the same information.”
Families who haven’t been assigned a sponsor can request one online by visiting Military Installations at http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil or Plan My Move at http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/moving.
The application is part of a series of new online resources the department has created to improve the relocation experiences of servicemembers and their families, Thompson said. Next up, department officials are looking at launching a similar application for military children on the move, she added.