By Catherine Carroll
Soldiers don’t often get the occasion to sit down face to face and discuss Army priorities and progress with the highest levels of leadership.
Army Reserve Ambassadors from the 88th Readiness Division’s 19-state region did get this face to face opportunity during the annual Army Reserve Ambassador (ARA) Workshop, at Fort Snelling, Minn., Aug. 10.
Ambassadors who attended the workshop not only established a valuable direct connection with Army Reserve leaders enabling them to advocate for the Soldiers, families and communities they represent, they also provided a unique perspective to discussions on current and future initiatives based on their many years of government, military and corporate private industry experience.
This workshop provided an especially valuable venue to bridge the future needs of the Army Reserve and the current needs and concerns of Soldiers, families and communities during this almost historic time of change and progress within the Total Army Team.
“We are not just preparing for the future of the Army Reserve. We are preparing the future Army Reserve,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Reinert, 88th RD commanding general. “The Army cannot go to war without the Army Reserve.”
Reinert kicked off the workshop with discussions on the future of combat arms maneuvering, force modernization and recruiting and retention opportunities. The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was also a hot topic and quite a few ambassadors shared stories from their early days as Soldiers and the importance of being physically ready for war.
The ACFT is designed as a tool for not simply measuring physical fitness, but assessing combat readiness by having Soldiers perform in ways that will be physically required of them in order to fight and win on the battlefield. It will be fully implemented in late 2020.
Understanding these important changes within the Army and the Army Reserve allows the ambassadors to better support Soldiers as they prepare for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“My biggest priority is to do what I can to help facilitate the support of Reserve component Soldiers, families and units within the state of Wyoming,” said Robert A. Fitton, who is the ambassador for the state of Wyoming and a retired Army colonel with more than 30 years of military service.
“I continue to come to these workshops so I not only learn a little bit more about the current state of issues and priorities within the Army as a whole,” said Fitton, “but also learn how that applies to the Reserve component and how I can better do my job in support of the Soldiers, families and units within the state.
“It’s always great to be able to give back service to the nation, and to the Army. This is something I have given more than thirty years of my life to, and so I gain a better appreciation of not only where the Army Reserve is going but also where the Total Army is moving to,” said Fitton.
Being an ARA doesn’t require past military service. While a good many ambassadors are retired military, many others are not.
John Thodos, ARA for the state of Illinois, is new to the program, and brings a great deal of civil service knowledge and experience. Thodos was mayor in the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area, encompassing cities in both Iowa and Illinois, for 12 years and served as an elected official for 20 years.
“I have no military background, I’m not a veteran, however, my son is an infantry Marine and many members of my family have served in the Navy,” said Thodos, “so I’ve been surrounded by military all my life.
“This gives me a different perspective and helps me understand the families and their concerns on a personal level.”
“I also see the influences the Army has on communities and on economies. Having worked with congressmen and senators who have direct effect on the military gives me the opportunity to be able to reach out and advocate for my state and the units, Soldiers and families who reside here,” said Thodos.
Attendees had the opportunity to discuss ongoing changes that will have an impact on communities within the 88th RD’s 19-state footprint, such as the ongoing transformation of the Readiness Divisions, which will geographically align units and families with the services and support they need, and the Mobilization Force Generation Installation (MFGI) mission at Fort McCoy, Wis., which will have a positive economic effect on the surrounding communities as well as become a force provider for the Total Army Team.
88th RD staff members also held discussions on family programs, casualty operations, and legislative concerns and conducted an annual ethics training class for the attendees.
“I’m excited to be here, it’s always great,” said Fitton. “One of the benefits of being an Army Reserve Ambassador is that it keeps me engaged within the Army so I continue to have an understanding of where the Army is, where it’s going and what the future holds.”