Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning has ordered a "holistic review" of child care, after hearing concerns from soldiers and families across the Army.
In town halls, family forums and other venues elsewhere, "I hear a lot about child care in particular," Fanning said, speaking at a senior leader family forum at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting. With him on the panel were Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey.
"We hear you, that this is an important concern. We're committed to making sure you have access to good, quality child care," he said.
Funding from the Defense Department will enable the Army to now implement expansion of child care hours under the Force of the Future DoD initiative, he said, noting the Army had conducted a couple of pilot programs earlier this year of the concept.
Commanders have the ability to extend hours to up to 14 hours a day, depending on the needs of their installation.
As officials work through the various Force of the Future DoD initiatives, what he has heard the most about in the field was child care – probably more than the other issues combined, he said. He asked for the review of how the Army is providing child care and where there are problems. That review includes the total force – issues with child care for Guard and Reserve members, too.
Fanning also reiterated that he has put a hold on the reductions in funding to installation morale, welfare and recreation programs so that Army officials can conduct a thorough review based on input from garrison leaders and families.
Asked whether cuts in the number of personnel will continue as planned at Army Community Services centers, Fanning said officials are reviewing "all spending."
The leaders all acknowledged the funding constraints, and said they are seeking input from soldiers and families about what is important to them.
"We are in a situation where we're having reduced resources. It's a fact," said Dailey. "It's time to ask our families. And now we've placed the power with senior commanders in each specific geographic area, to allow them to tune the programs they need to the geographic location." The needs of the families at Fort Irwin are different from those at Fort Carson, for example. At Fort Carson, there are more resources in the civilian community.
Milley agreed to look into issues around joint basing agreements, and whether problems are because of joint basing or for some other reason. A comment from the audience referred to continuing problems with communication between the service branches at the joint installations.
Fanning said joint basing appears to be working in some areas, and not working in others. There are quite a few people in the Pentagon who assert that joint basing is not working that well, and quite a few outside the Pentagon who say it is working.
The AUSA town hall is the only forum that the three Army senior leaders do every year, an indication of the importance of family issues to all three of those leaders, Fanning said. Daily noted it was one of the most well-attended forums he'd seen at the conference, showing the importance of the issues to others.
"I view support to soldiers, families, and [Army] civilians entirely through the prism of readiness," Milley said.
"We're not an altruistic organization doing things just because we love Army families," he said. With about 60 percent of soldiers married with two children, "if you're a human being, your primary concern, your primary focus of loyalty, is your family," he said.
If the family is not being taken care of, he said, "there's a direct correlation to the soldier's inability to focus on the job, whether it's training for combat or actual combat.
"Everything we do is looking through the lens of readiness."
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.