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SMA testifies on Army's quality of life

By Staff Sgt. Reeba Critser

WASHINGTON (Feb. 17, 2005) - While Army generals testified on the progress of the Global War on Terrorism last week, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston was fighting for Soldiers on another front - their quality of life.

"We recruit Soldiers and retain families," Preston said during opening statements to members of the Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Feb. 16 on Capitol Hill.

"Our servicemen and women are at the forefront of change and this subcommittee can help them," said New York Rep. James Walsh, chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs, in his opening statement. "If we do our jobs and take our responsibility seriously and make sure our people are taken care of, our people will do better jobs."

The subcommittee members questioned Preston and the other three senior enlisted leaders, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John L. Estrada, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray on various issues. The general consensus was childcare and housing were immediate issues to address in the military.

All the leaders reported thousands in their branches waiting to receive on-post childcare.

"It's a huge challenge," Preston said. "The demographics show most spouses in the Army work. And with both parents working the need is high for childcare."

With housing, Preston said even with the basic allowance for housing increase, the Army is seeing more of an increase in Soldiers living on posts thanks to privatization.

A question a subcommittee member asked was about deployments.

"There is tension with back-to-back deployments and nine-month dwell time before returning to the desert," Preston said. "Transformation will help bring stability and predictability to Soldiers and their families. We're working to get the ideal times at one to two years dwell time for active duty and five to six years dwell time for the Reserve component."

The leaders were asked about their recruiting and retention figures. For the Army, all figures are currently met except for National Guard recruiting. Preston said many of the Reserve component's recruiting numbers are gained with active duty Soldiers getting out. But because of the war and stop loss, the National Guard is challenged meeting its requirement.

"Recruiters have a tough job," Preston said. "I met a staff sergeant, a recruiter, who had recruits to ship out one day and one of them called to say he couldn't go because his mother threatened to commit suicide if he went; another recruit's father called to say he didn't have the money for gas to bring his son up to the station. The recruiter paid for the gas out of pocket."

Another topic brought up was the Department of Defense school system.

"I have children attending DOD schools and we love it because of its consistency, stability of curriculum and performance," said Scott.

Preston said transformation is a positive effect for children in schools because the family will be in the area longer. He said because of the stability transformation will bring, it will be easier for high school students to compete for scholarships in public schools.

Health care for the Reserve component was also a concern discussed.

"While Guard and Reserve Soldiers are on active duty, they're getting the same treatment as active duty," Preston said.

He said currently Reserve component Soldiers and their families are eligible to use TRICARE 90 days before and 180 days after deployment. Preston also said the Army is working on making the timeframe longer with use of premiums.

One subcommittee member wanted to know if the weight requirements to ship household goods should change.

"Between 60 to 70 percent of Sailors said they have sold, left behind or gave away their household goods to meet the weight requirement," Scott said. "For an overseas assignment we expect the Sailor, once they arrive, to go to work immediately but their POV (privately owned vehicle) won't show up for another 90 to 120 days. So they have to pay for a taxi and make their car payments. Sometimes, they have to get rid of their second vehicle to take an assignment in Hawaii or Alaska."

Estrada also added he would like to see a change in the policies of damaged goods.

"The service member should receive the full value of goods damaged in a move, not just a percentage because some things are irreplaceable," he said.

The recent law on the added service members group life insurance and death gratuity was brought to the table.

"I support it but not the specific area," Murray said. "I think it should be across the board to include all locations, even training bases some training exercises are dangerous."

Other topics of discussions with the subcommittee were increasing educational benefits and compensating service members for skills lucrative in the civilian job market.

"Hopefully this will send a message to servicemen and women that Congress really cares about them," Walsh said.

Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Reeba Critser writes for the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.) OCPA Public Affairs Home OCPA Public Affairs Home


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