WASHINGTON - While Army family programs will remain a top priority for the service, the current fiscal situation means cuts and readjustments will have to be made, the Army's top leaders said.
Speaking Monday at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, top leaders of the reserve components also noted the support needed by their Soldiers and families.
Guard members go out on missions every day, said Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., director of the Army National Guard, and they deserve to know that their families are safe.
"I often hear Soldiers are rightly concerned about their families," Ingram said. "These are Soldiers who are responding to disasters in their communities. They say 'How can I make sure my family's safe while I'm out here doing something for someone else? How can I make sure that they're getting the things that they need?' The family readiness network and the family assistance centers, as well as family readiness groups take care of each other."
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief of the Army Reserve and commander of the United States Army Reserve Command, pointed out that caring for Reserve Soldiers and their families means ensuring those Soldiers also have rewarding civilian careers, careers "that complement what they do in the Army Reserve and that's where I'm putting all of my emphasis. I'm extremely excited and confident that that's going to create more volunteers."
In order to make family programs more efficient, however, and to keep the cuts as transparent as possible, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said he needs the help of family members.
"Don't let us do this in a vacuum at the Pentagon," McHugh said during the first family forum of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
"We're going to have to make decisions on resources, hard decisions," McHugh said. "Absent your input I'm very, very confident that the quality of the product we'll produce will not be what it would be if we have your guidance and your leadership."
Family members can provide their input through family forums, their local chains of command and the Installation Management Command, explained Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, saying that "we really have to make sure that we're focusing our dollars in the right place."
In fact, Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, assistant chief of staff for Installation Management and the commander of IMCOM, pointed out that IMCOM has already been hard at work restructuring its programs and saving money. He believes that if Soldiers and families even notice changes, they'll be changes for the better.
"It doesn't cost a penny to make an Army family member feel like a million dollars," he said. "Our customer service, our positive attitude and then our follow-through when someone walks in are as much of what we do as anything else."
Family programs will become especially important as Soldiers return to garrison life after 12 years of war. Many of today's Soldiers have never experienced life in garrison, Odierno pointed out, and that's okay. It's an important time to reset the Army, train and prepare for future conflicts, to "invest in readiness."
It's up to the Army and to individual leaders, he said, to make sure that Soldiers and their families understand that, and to help them deal with the challenges that will come with peace. Most Soldiers and families are already resilient, but some will need to learn to be a family after so much time apart. Many, "from four-star general down to private," will need financial counseling to learn to live on paychecks that will no longer include tax-free combat pay.
It's also up to the Army to ensure that Soldiers aren't bored in garrison, said McHugh. He explained that many Soldiers have thrived on the challenges of deployment, and "to fail to understand the need to provide some kind of excitement, some kind of challenge will cause us to lose them, certainly out of uniform, and we run the risk of losing them in other ways.
"We're taking this very, very seriously," he continued. "It's one of the biggest challenges, frankly, that we have in ensuring we're appropriately resourced because part of the way you would keep them engaged and keep them interested in their own lives and the lives of others is to ensure you have enough for training, that you have enough for education, that you have enough opportunities to stimulate them and to keep them (from) finding a substitute for that excitement they've often found on battlefield."
For his part, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said that everyone should take a moment to be grateful that our young men and women are finally coming home. He also challenged the Army to remember those Soldiers and family members who have already given too much.
Chandler said he worries that "we (will) start to forget about our wounded warriors and their families. The challenges of the future with health care, both for their physical wounds and for behavioral health, will continue to be with us. We need to do everything we possibly can to help them. The second thing is the families of fallen, to understand that that will never heal and we have to honor and respect their sacrifices for the rest of time that we have a country because they've given something that's a debt that we can never repay."