A ground-breaking white paper in 1983 by then-Chief of Staff of the Army General John A. Wickham Jr. on the importance of increasing support to the Army family put into motion the Army Family Action Plan, or AFAP. General Wickham asserted that a healthy family environment allowed soldiers to more fully concentrate on their mission — so he set about wanting to get feedback on what could be improved to enhance their standard of living.
At its core, AFAP provides the opportunity for soldiers, family members, survivors, retirees, and civilian employees to identify, prioritize, and elevate quality-of-life issues to senior leaders for action and resolution. AFAP is a highly successful Army-wide program with a mission to improve all aspects of Army life.
We prioritized the issues of providing a monthly stipend to ill or injured soldiers for non-medical caregivers, and funding service dogs for Wounded Warriors.
Since its inception almost 35 years ago, AFAP has provided a forum to let Army leadership know what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to happen to fix it. The one-of-a-kind program is the brainchild of Army spouses that doesn’t just benefit the Army; it has expanded to include all branches of service, and in particular, those Joint Base Installations comprised of Air Force and Navy components.
A Voice for Those Who Keep Things Running
AFAP is a year-round process that begins at the installation and local unit level. Units hold annual AFAP Conferences — a three-day forum where delegates, facilitators, and other participants gather to give members of the community a voice in what they feel should be taken into consideration when shaping the standards of living of military members. They also identify issues related to the current environment. The delegates include military members who are active duty, Reserve, and National Guard, as well as family members, retirees, surviving spouses and Department of Defense civilians. They are split into five workgroups to address issues, voice concerns, and make recommendations for changes to leadership.
The goals of the conference are to provide information on the implementation of AFAP issues and to identify and prioritize for the Army leadership those soldier and family issues that reflect the Army needs. Prioritized issues are brought up at the installation or unit level and may be addressed there, or moved to a higher command. Those issues beyond the scope of the local level requiring a higher level of authority, are forwarded to the Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) AFAP conference. Army leaders evaluate the issues and may take action, or even seek changes in the law to address the issues.
AFAP engages Army leadership at all levels. The AFAP General Officer Steering Committee (GOSC) consisting of General Officer and Senior Executive Service Army members serves as the review board to ensure that AFAP issues are thoroughly worked to resolution by the appropriate functional proponent. The GOSC is chaired by the Vice Chief of Staff, Army (VSCA) who leads the discussion, and determines the final issue resolution.
Over the years, the AFAP process has reviewed over 695 quality-of-life issues and has been the driving force behind the enactment of 128 pieces of legislation and 184 Department of Defense and U.S. Army changes, while improving 208 programs and services. Leaders trust and support AFAP, it provides real-time information that enables commanders to respond more rapidly to resolve problems, implement good ideas, and guide policy formation. A few results are listed below:
- Thrift Savings Plan
- Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for family members
- Tricare health insurance for Life
- Dislocation allowance and temporary lodging expenses
- Full replacement costs for lost or damaged household goods when a service member changes duty station
- School liaison officers
- Minimum standards for Army child care (1984, five years before sweeping DoD child care changes)
- Video surveillance at child development centers
- First policy for Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program
- Guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees
- Allowing soldiers to remain in their location if they have a graduating high school senior
- Medical care access for nondependent caregivers at the military treatment facility while they attend to their soldier who is recovering or receiving treatment
- Paternity leave for married soldiers
Volunteers Are Critical
AFAP should not be taken for granted. The program values the voices of those it serves, and participation is critical. AFAP asks participants to identify issues and be part of the AFAP process. As an active duty spouse and later as a military contractor, I volunteered and served as a delegate, a group facilitator, and as operational staff.
As a first time delegate, I participated in the working group dedicated to family issues. An issue that was prioritized in this group that eventually moved up the line to the Department of the Army Headquarters was the need for inclusion of audio or video surveillance at child development centers. Video surveillance systems in child and youth facilities would be a deterrent measure for child abuse in the facilities. Surveillance systems are now in all child development centers. In 2003, the surveillance systems were expanded to school age and youth centers. Surveillance systems have been funded and are now be part of the standard designs for all child and youth facilities.
In 2010, as a group facilitator for the Wounded Warrior-Caregiver-Survivor Issues working group, we prioritized the issues of providing a monthly stipend to ill or injured soldiers for non-medical caregivers, and funding service dogs for Wounded Warriors.
The AFAP experience is rewarding. I encourage anyone affiliated with our military to become a delegate, volunteer to help with your local conference, familiarize yourself with current AFAP issues, and share that information with your peers.
Many programs are now well established in the Army, and the larger military community, because years ago someone submitted an issue to AFAP and that is how we started improving the quality of life for our military.
As General (Retired) John A. Wickham, Jr. said, “The stronger the Army, the stronger the family.” Our Army family says thank you, and hooah!
Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. An OpsLens contributor, she has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany. This Ops Lens article is used by permission.
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