Congress AP PhotoIn testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, the military’s top enlisted advisors and the acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs discussed the importance of single service member and military family readiness programs.

“Our Navy is at optimal potential when sailors are fully focused on the mission. Taking care of our sailors is key to ensuring the Navy’s military readiness,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven S. Giordano. “Providing them the ability to devote their full attention and capabilities to the mission at hand is an important factor in successfully executing our design for maintaining maritime superiority, specifically our line of effort to strengthen our Navy team for the future.”

He, along with the other service chiefs, said they met with thousands of service members and their families who serve alongside them.

“I’ve listened and spoken with many of our sailors and their family members, and I’m awed by their high morale and devotion to duty and to one another,” Giordano said.

“My wife and I have visited thousands of airmen and family members over the past year, and we have listened to their concerns and witnessed firsthand their passion for service,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. “We both can affirm the impact the current environment and uncertainty has had on our force.”

Military Readiness

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey asked Congress to continue making military readiness a top priority. “After visiting and talking with thousands of soldiers and families over the past year, I believe their quality of life is okay but it’s not great,” he said. “If we want to continue to retain and attract quality people under the current end strength of an all-volunteer force, we must continue sustainment efforts, as was the case in last year’s Congress.”

He said this includes not only appropriations for equipment, training and manpower but also a consistent and predictable budget that supports benefits and services throughout the life cycle of a soldier from recruitment, retention to transition and then veteran status.

“Fiscal uncertainty will result in loss of confidence in our institution and ultimately degrade our ability to retain and recruit,” he said.

Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green said the Marine Corps will continue its commitment to being an expeditionary force.

“The Marine Corps continues to maintain its commitment to the nation, remaining forward deployed and ready to respond in crises around the world with the dynamic pace of current and future demands our nation’s leaders require and the American people expect your Marines to answer the call to win and fight. The Marine Corps has always been the nation’s expeditionary force in readiness,” he said.

He said the average age of a Marine today is 25. Sixty-five percent of Marines are under 25 years old and 56 percent are single, Green added. Because of this, the Corps is focusing on initiatives for families and single Marines and sailors under their commands to enhance morale and professional development as well as to improve force readiness and retention.

To meet global demands, Cody said the Air Force is increasing its active-duty end strength up to 321,000 by the end of 2017 and up to 350,000 over the next seven years.

“To do this, we must address mission and readiness demands, increase our accessions and strengthen our retention while never sacrificing quality over quantity,” he said.

He also said part of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act considers potential changes to compensation in the form of basic allowance for housing and this “would reverse nearly 20 years of deliberate legislation action to ensure service members are appropriately compensated for their service and that their salaries remain competitive with the demand for their talent and acknowledge their service and sacrifice,” he said. “While we remain mindful of the current budget pressures across the Department of Defense, cost savings needs to be tempered by the need to retain our talent which is truly a national asset.”

Families Serve

“Our nearly 3 million military family members may not wear a uniform but they do serve, and they do sacrifice. We believe that our single service member and military family programs are absolutely essential to maintaining the readiness of our armed forces and with your support, we back that belief with an investment of effort, of ingenuity and dollars,” said Stephanie Barna, acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs.

She said her office is having the military services conduct a review of all assignment and relocation policies and the effect those policies have on military stability and quality of life. “We want to ensure we are optimizing the use of existing authorities and resources,” she noted.

The DOD officials testified alongside the executive director of the National Military Family Association as well as the chief executive officer of Blue Star Families, Kathy Roth-Douquet, who told the committee that her organization conducts a nationally recognized annual military lifestyles survey with active duty, veterans and their families.

She said the results show families need both parents to have income to maintain their lifestyle and create opportunities for their children. It also showed that the top issues military families faced were childcare, healthcare and spouse employment.

“Two thirds of military families don’t have childcare to meet their needs,” Roth-Douquet said.

Joyce W. Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, said military spouses also said they had trouble with healthcare. “Nothing is more important to our military families, to their readiness, than access to quality healthcare,” she said. “In a recent survey of 9,000 military spouses, 30 percent who use a military hospital reported they rarely or never get an acute care appointment within the 24-hour access standard, a finding reinforced by the Defense Health Agency’s own transparency data.

“Service members can’t focus on the job if their spouse can’t get a job, their sick child can’t get a doctor’s appointment or if there’s not quality childcare available,” she added.

Childcare “is a huge concern for us,” Dailey said. “One of the key things that enable our family members and a lot of our spouses to seek employment is childcare. It’s the number one resourced function within [morale, welfare and recreation] in the United States Army by size and scope. It’s critical to our success, and it’s something we have to continue to invest in for the future.”

He said the Army is working on the backlog on background checks and is off setting the cost for soldiers to seek childcare costs off post. The Army’s main issue is it needs additional space on some of its installations, he said.

Credentialing, Transitioning

As for spouse employment, one of the issues brought before congress was the continued need for work on the credentialing process for transitioning service members and spouses with professional credentials as they move from one state to another.

“It’s going to require a collaboration between the states. We did this with education when we came up with the Military Coalition Act,” Cody said. “We have a responsibility to help with the costs of these licensing and credentialing across state lines. It makes it cost-prohibitive when you’re talking about a two- to three-year move ratio.”

“My wife is a registered nurse. Her license across the state lines has changed a number of times throughout the years, and it presents a challenge for her every time she’s had to get a new license and pay for that licensing,” Giordano said. “We’ve taken great steps to try to mitigate that in the services working with the Department of Labor and our State processes, and we appreciate all those efforts.”

“The Defense State Liaison Office in the DoD has made tremendous strides on working with states to address issues like unemployment compensation for mobile military spouses and working the licensure issue. There are improvements in licensure transferability; we’ve seen progress but there’s still a lot more to do to help our spouses and transitioning service members launch their careers because of these state barriers. We have something to build on,” said Raezer.

Barna said her office is working with the Transition to Veterans Program Office and Department of Veterans Affairs to help transitioning service members translate their job skills into learning credits and to help them find jobs seeking “essential skills” such as leadership skills, team building and problem solving. “We have found that these are exactly the skills, no matter the occupation, that employers everywhere continue to crave,” she said. “It’s why our service members are doing so well in all the states as they enter the job market. We have received incredible support for our transitioning service members.”

By Shannon Collins