Army works to balance readiness with Soldier needs

Soldiers bid farewell to family and friends during a recent deployment ceremony held at an Army garrison post. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Tashera Pravato)

Child care, health care and spouse employment top a list of Soldier concerns. However, the Army’s senior enlisted adviser said that with dwindling installation funding, only the programs most important to Soldiers will escape reductions.

During a March 23 Association of the U.S. Army “Hot Topic” forum about installation management, Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey discussed the need to balance readiness with the services provided to Soldiers by Army installations.

“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 things to sustain them outside of what is provided by their units to prepare them for the war fight, Dailey said. Most of those needs are met through the services provided by the installations where they live.

Those services are wide-ranging in scope. 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 [on] ‘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 Needs of Families

To help identify Soldiers’ needs, Dailey reviewed information collected from Army town halls for the past 24 months. He elaborated that those needs may vary, depending on whether a Soldier is single or has a family.

The most used family program is child care, Dailey said. “We spend more time on child care than we do any other family support program on our installations.”

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 the capability of providing care, including access to 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. What makes it more difficult is that health care has a direct tie to readiness and neither one can afford to take any risk.

Spouse employment was another key issue identified during the town halls, as 61 percent of the Army population is married, Dailey said.

The majority of Army enlisted spouses are employed, Dailey said. But unfortunately, due to the turbulence associated with Army life, such as changes of station and frequent deployments, it is 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-Soldier Needs

Single Soldiers have needs as well, Dailey said. Many 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, 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 those needs with the requirement to increase readiness and modernize the Army.

He said having installations establish a baseline of services would help prioritize what is provided and would help lower costs.

Additionally, he said, such a baseline would help manage “the expectation of the family when they PCS 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.”

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