Preserve quality-of-life programs, official urges congress
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2013 – Recognizing that everyone has to make sacrifices in light of the fiscal challenges facing the Defense Department, a senior defense official cautioned Congress yesterday against measures that would reverse the tremendous strides made in improving quality-of-life programs for military members and their families.
“Your leadership and emphasis have kept the focus on the programs that help keep our military strong and resilient,” Rosemary Freitas Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, told the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel subcommittee.
“Today more than ever before,” Williams said, “the members of our military community need to count on the resolve and commitment you have so consistently displayed over the years for the programs they hold most dear.”
A Marine Corps wife for 20 years, Williams told the panel she is well-versed on the challenges military service places on military members and their families. Long and sometimes unpredictable combat deployments, family separations and frequent permanent-change-of-station moves have created “trying times for our military community,” she said.
That underscores the importance of a variety of DOD initiatives: morale, welfare and recreation programs; child, youth and family programs; and benefits provided through military exchanges and commissaries, Williams told the congressional panel.
“Morale, welfare and recreation programs are critical to their wellness and resiliency,” she said. “Participation in recreation, fitness, sports, cultural arts and other leisure activities leads to improved personal health and well-being, and helps build strong military families and healthy communities.”
In addition, active lifestyles help reduce stress, loneliness, obesity and depression, Williams said, while building positive self-esteem and esprit de corps that’s critical to a healthy military environment.
Williams recognized examples of the robust programming for service members and their families during the past year.
The 426 free MWR Internet Cafes and 150 portable morale satellite units in the Middle East enabled deployed troops and their families to spend 4.6 million minutes of communicating time each month between January and June 2012.
Library online databases supporting continuing education, career development, spouse employment and children’s interests had 86 million “hits” in fiscal 2012.
Tutor.com, an online, 24/7 live homework support network, provided more than 600,000 tutoring sessions for children of deployed service members.
More than 60,000 families and 77,000 children enjoyed free memberships and respite child care at 1,481 YMCAs and 1,155 private fitness centers across the United States.
A popular summer reading program at 230 libraries worldwide clocked 25 million minutes of reading time for the youngest military child readers.
Military service programs are mitigating risky behaviors, promoting improved fitness and providing adaptive opportunities for family members with special needs.
Eligible DOD Child Development Centers achieved an impressive 97 percent national accreditation rate, compared to 8 to 10 percent in the general population.
The Military Spouse Employment Program has helped more than 50,000 military spouses find jobs, and a new Spouse Ambassador Network is expected to broaden knowledge about employment resources for military spouses.
“These are just a few examples of the innovative and effective quality-of-life programs that we and our service partners provide to promote readiness, resilience and unit cohesion,” Williams said.
She expressed concern, however, that some of these services and programs -- particularly those funded through appropriated funds -- will suffer in light of continual budget cuts and reductions.
“Keep in mind that sequestration has only been in effect for half a year,” she reminded the panel. “Without some relief, the department faces nine more years of steeper funding cuts and ever-more-unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.
“At the time of our people’s greatest need, these funding cutbacks pose great risks to the programs and services on which military members and their families depend,” Williams said.
“We are willing to do our part,” Williams said, including ongoing efforts that will improve efficiencies and transform DOD programs to meet the new fiscal realities.
“But we can’t expect the service members past and present and their families to shoulder this burden alone,” she said, “and to meet these challenges with even more of their personal sacrifices.”
(Follow Donna Miles on Twitter: @MilesAFPS)