Army Family Action Plan leads to change

by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

Home on leave from Iraq, Matthew Smith swerved across an Indiana roadway to avoid a soda can he thought was a roadside bomb and nearly crashed into oncoming traffic.

Smith, 27, now a sergeant with the Kaiserslautern-based 457th Civil Affairs Battalion, mentioned the 2007 memory to his wife Stephanie, who had an idea. Why doesn’t the Army make mental health screenings mandatory for deployed Soldiers before their Rest and Recuperation leave?

“That event really scared him,” said Stephanie Smith, an Army Community Service employee at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern. “If someone had warned him ― to take time to reintegrate and make adjustments on R&R – that could have been prevented.”

Last year, the Smiths submitted the idea as a suggestion the Army Family Action Plan ― a grassroots program where community members indentify quality of life issues for the Army to address. It ended up being considered at the highest Army levels.

“Change starts with people like me, just another community member,” Smith said.
Representatives from U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg and U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern came together Oct. 19 for a combined 2011 AFAP conference. Roughly 200 people attended the three-day event held at the Kaiserslautern Community Activity Center on Daenner Kaserne. In past years, ideas were submitted anonymously in community drop boxes. This year, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern webmaster Brandon Spragins created a way for community members to offer AFAP ideas online, increasing submission numbers. Also, mobile device photographed a special bar code that pointed them directly to the submission site.

“This allowed users to offer ideas with ease, from either their workplace or the comfort of their home,” Spragins said. “Using today’s interactive technology revolutionizes how community members can suggest improvements and make changes both locally and Army wide.” At the conference, issues were prioritized and solutions recommended. Some topics brought up this year included improvements to parking, housing, speeding on post and the transformation of Sembach Kaserne, where several Army units are moving.

Some issues were raised to higher commands or senior Army leadership. Other problems can be addressed at the local level, said Michelle Thomas, Army Community Service director at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern.

“We have command team that has no problem with confronting issues and finding solutions. They’re family and Soldier oriented,” Thomas said. “When you have that in a command team, you have a wonderful thing.”

AFAP conferences began in 1983. Early issues focused on child care standards and volunteer support. Since then, milestones included changes to pay, healthcare, insurance, single Soldier programs and school liaisons. AFAP suggestions also led to an increase of annual leave carryover, toll-free hotlines for wounded service members and education benefits for surviving spouses. AFAP issues even led to legislative changes as well as changes of Army and DOD policies, AFAP program manager Kimberly Lazarow said.

“Our first step is to see if the submitted issues affect the local community or is it something Army-wide,” Lazarow said. “About 90 percent of issues submitted are worked at the local level, others are pushed higher.”

Last year, the Smiths’ issue was elevated through Installation Management Command to the Department of the Army for consideration.

“This really works. Everything has to get looked at and nothing gets pushed off to the side,” Stephanie Smith said. “One little event in my husband’s life may change Army policy.”