18 June 2009

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

This comment arrived under the “Who We Are” section over at LeftFace, but I wanted to put it out there to as wide of an audience as possible. Kristy is trying to get some real changes made and we ALL need to throw our thoughts into the ring. Please think about these questions she poses and get your voice out there!!!

Hi All, My name is Kristy Kaufmann, I’m the Army wife who wrote the op-ed in the Washington Post, “Army Families Under Fire” 5/11/09.

Since the article ran, I’ve been in contact with the White House, the Secretary of the Army, the office of the Sec. of Defense, Army family program directors and some congressmen and senators. It’s taken me 8 years and an op-ed to get in the room and I’m doing everything I possibly can use this “voice” to inject some urgency and reality into these conversations. I am completely unaffiliated and my only agenda is to speak for the many who have no voice and hold our leaders (civilian and military) accountable for doing what they say they are going to do (and doing it effectively).

We (military families) need smart people like you at the ground level who are unafraid to speak honestly and help provide solutions. I wouldn’t have taken the risk to write the article if I didn’t think it could affect significant change, but I’m just one person. I need to hear from others that are “in the trenches”; ours is the voice that has been missing from the conversations where decisions are being made. I have a direct line to the top right now, let’s use this opportunity!

Here are a couple of questions I’ve been asked by non-profits who want to help military families, they want input from the ground level. Please feel free to post them on Left Face, people can also respond directly to me at kkaufmanncool@gmail.com. I will keep all responses anonymous. I’m using “soldier” to represent all military members, regardless of branch.

1. What are the biggest problems facing soldiers (and their families) returning from deployment?
2. What could be done to address these problems?
3. Does the current military family support system work? If not, why?
4. How can veteran’s service organizations help military families?
5. If you had all the power in the world, what would you do to support soldiers and military families?

Thanks! Kristy

Here are my two cents, which I already posted over at LF… I really encourage all of you to either shoot Kristy an e-mail or head over to LeftFace to get your opinions and thoughts heard!

1. I echo LopsidedMom on this one. JOBS! My husband will soon retire and our options are super limited give his MOS and I worry that if he doesn't stay in a career with military ties (ROTC, JROTC) no one will realize his potential, experience and mad skills. The Vet unemployment rate is WAY too high and generally speaking these are folks with loads of potential and a totally untapped resource. We need to fix this!

2. I think the tax incentives are a good start- make it profitable to hire these folks. But again, echoing LopsidedMom, we need to educate employers to their skill sets, abilities, and all the ways these amazing folks can be an asset to their company.

Also, help them recognize that sometimes with folks like this, college degrees aren't necessary, their breadth and wealth of experience should count for something. I can't tell you how many jobs my husband has already looked into and is qualified for SKILL-wise but not Degree-wise. This is an issue for lots of retiring NCO's and we need to create a situation that allows these troops (especially those with 15-20 years in) to get more than entry level jobs. (And the GI Bill isn't the only answer to this, we need to get creative here!)

3. Yes and no. If the FRG (Army) is run by someone who has a) the time, b) the resources and c) the support to do it right, then it works well. But more often than not, this isn't the situation. I agree that these positions all need to be paid and specific goals/tasks need to be laid out so that expectations can be met and folks can be held accountable. These groups need to revolve less around socializing/status making and more around concrete help, support and education.

I also think that the support network for families not in the general vicinity of their installation (ie- went home to live with parents during the deployment, didn't choose to move shortly before a deployment like me, etc) needs to be beefed up and the DoD or someone needs to be more creative about creating support networks for these folks. I would love to see someone create databases (I know this is a huge task) that would allow military families of all branches reach out and find real tangible support in their location. I wouldn't care if the only folks I had in town for support were Navy or Air Force (that's not a dig!)... just having actual people to meet with when you are geographically separated from your Unit would be AMAZING. This is an area that is sorely lacking!

4. I think that having lists of trusted service providers would be a great start. Who can you trust to do yard work? What is a reliable mechanic that won't try to take advantage of me? Who does good home repair that, again, won't fleece me? I also think that possibly Veteran organizations could also serve as a resource for finding other military families in your area. They could possibly host meet-ups open to all branches? But I do agree that this should be a two way street. If Vet's organizations and MilFamilies relied on each other, there could be A LOT of amazing work accomplished!

5. At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, I agree with trying to bring peace to fruition and bring our troops home. But in all seriousness. I would stop using our troops as worldwide peace-makers. I would try to rely more on UN forces and support/augment these groups for situations like Iraq, etc. I would use our troops in more of a preventative role (rather than reactionary and risk becoming the go-to guys in everyone else's time of need), focusing on intelligence, homeland security, keeping the US safe and working WITH allies and multi-national forces in supporting roles instead of taking over. If conflict wasn't avoidable, I would focus on utilizing our forces efficiently and evenly, paying close attention to OpTempo and staying within our means (both at home and in theatre).

I would put real money, time and effort into fixing the woefully inadequate systems in place to deal with PTSD, suicides, substance abuse and relationship/family issues. I would also beef up the school and support programs for military kids... more after school programs, more counselors, more funding for special events. Anything to make deployments easier on kids. And yes, free college to Gold Star kids for sure.

Lastly, I totally second LopsidedMom on requiring our elected officials to wear 80lbs of combat gear and go to Birkram Yoga. But only after they had to do some Basic Training and get buzz cuts.

Okay folks, now it is your turn. Go get your opinions heard!!! Double Time!!!

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