Child care, health care and spouse employment top a long list of Soldier needs met by installation programs, but with dwindling installation funding, only the most vital of those programs are likely to escape reductions.
That's according to Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, the Army's senior enlisted advisor, who discussed the need to balance readiness with the services provided to Soldiers by Army installations during an Association of the U.S. Army "Hot Topic" forum about installation management in March 2017.
March 23, 2017 - Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey talks about Army's fiscal constraints requiring a balance of services with readiness during an Association of the U.S. Army "Hot Topics" forum on installation management, in Arlington, VA.(U.S. Army photo by Devon Suits)
"I am the first guy that is going to say we need everything [for our Soldiers]," Dailey said. "But I am also a realist, because I have to sit in the same meetings with the [chief of staff of the Army.] I know the realistic costs it takes to train and ready Soldiers to fight and win."
Soldiers -- both those with and without families -- need a lot of support beyond what is provided by their units to prepare them for the warfight, Dailey acknowledged. And most of their needs are met through the services provided by the installations where they live.
Those services are wide-ranging in scope, and Dailey said that with smaller budgets and a top-down directive by the Army's chief of staff making readiness the No. 1 priority, installations must prioritize and standardize the services provided to Soldiers so that limited resources can be targeted at other competing priorities.
"We need to have that discussion, 'What do we provide on installations?'" Dailey said. "We have to make the decision on what is sustainable for the future, in our [current] fiscal restraints."
THE SOLDIER'S NEEDS
To get a sense of Soldiers' needs, Dailey reviewed information collected from Army town halls for the past 24 months. He has identified the most-used family program: child care. "We spend more time on child care than we do any other family support program on our installations," he said.
Health care is also a top priority for Soldiers. When it comes to health care, Dailey said, expectations have grown. Currently, the Army is facing challenges with its capacity to provide care, including special-needs care for Soldiers and their families.
As the health care needs of families continue to increase, so too does the Army's fiscal responsibility to provide that care, Dailey said. And for the Army, the issue of health care is especially tricky because of its direct ties to readiness. The Army can't afford for either one to be at risk.
In addition to health care, spouse employment was another key issue Dailey identified; 61 percent of the Army population is married, he said.
The majority of Army enlisted spouses are employed. But unfortunately, due to the turbulence associated with Army life -- such as changes of station and frequent deployments -- it's not always possible for military spouses to find stable, meaningful work.
"[Soldiers and their families] want the American dream," Dailey said. "It takes both [members] working to do that."
Single Soldiers have needs as well, Dailey noted. Many of those single Soldiers live in barracks, and that's something Dailey said the Army could do a better job at managing.
"We have successfully failed at taking care of our barracks in the Army for 241 years," he said. "We spend a lot of money on maintaining barracks, but we're not good at taking care of them. We shouldn't be in that business."
One option for taking care of Soldier barracks might be to privatize them, he suggested, in the same way that family housing has been privatized. Such a move would take the financial burden off the Army for maintaining housing for single Soldiers.
The Army must take care of the needs of Soldiers, Dailey said, while at the same time balancing its commitment to meeting those needs with its commitments to increasing readiness and modernizing the force.
Establishing a baseline of installation services would help lower costs, Dailey said, and manage "the expectation of the family when they PCS [permanent change of station] from one installation to another. They know what the Army is going to provide them -- the level of care that will be provided at the installations."
By U.S. Army Devon Suits
Army News Service
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