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NEWS | May 21, 2018

Town hall provides opportunity to voice concerns

By Zachary Mott 88th Readiness Division

In its fifth of seven stops, a team representing the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC) initiative conducted a town hall style question and answer session with military spouses, family readiness group leaders, service members and other family members in suburban Minneapolis, May 16.

The town hall was just one of several events during the teams’ visit to Minnesota where they met with senior military leaders, various service providers and military spouses and service members from across Minnesota to learn about issues that might affect the readiness of service members in the Army Reserve, Army National Guard or Air Guard – what is termed geographically dispersed service members and families.

“The BMHC program is designed to provide programs and services to geographically dispersed families that are not already being provided,” said Pharisse Berry, Family Programs director, U.S. Army Reserve Command. “They’re doing a rapid needs assessment in each of these states and finding out what is lacking and what is not being provided.”

During the two-hour meeting, the BHMC team asked questions on various topics ranging from the flow of information to family members to the availability of community resources in their areas. The attendees represented Army Reserve, Army National Guard and Air Guard units from across Minnesota.

“We all go through the same things regardless of the service,” said Evette Smith, a family readiness group leader with the U.S. Army Reserve’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 372nd Engineer Brigade out of Fort Snelling, Minnesota. “It’s good to get all of the branches together and so that we can bridge the gap and bring us closer together.”

Army Capt. Andy Vu, the deputy director for Joint Force Fitness and Operation Live Well, and the BHMC team are trying determine what the needs are for each area they visit. One common theme they’ve found between Minnesota and the previous four visits is the need for strong communication from leadership.

“One of the biggest things that we’ve learned so far … is that leadership support and reaching out and being engaged with your Soldiers is one of the most pressing things that you can do in order to improve and augment readiness,” Vu said. 

The lessons Vu and his team are learning in each state will be included in a strategic plan that will be submitted later this year. That plan will be a way forward to help bridge the gap between what is currently being provided to service members and their families to where the DoD hopes to be in regard to future readiness levels.

“The way ahead is to enculturate a new type of service member. To make sure that this kind of culture is pushed from the top down in order to improve retention and to improve readiness, improve family readiness and child readiness,” Vu said. “We know that we can’t save the world but we can make it a better place. However we can do that, we’re going to try.”

The BHMC program has conducted surveys in Mississippi, Indiana, Florida, Maryland and Minnesota. The final two surveys will be in Oklahoma and New Mexico.