Quality of family life, focus on developing soldier talent, focus of AUSA 2019

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The AUSA Volunteer Family of the Year-- The Ellwien Family

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition for the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) kicked off with a moving opening ceremony that included firm statements by the new Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, about the future of the military.

“To fully realize our Modernization Strategy, we must have the Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 budget approved in a timely manner,” McCarthy said.

The event was held at the Marriott Marquis Convention Center in Washington, D.C. from Oct. 14 – Oct. 16 with more than 30,000 attendees, 700 exhibits, 130 programs and more than 80 countries represented. AUSA Membership has exceeded 162,000 as a result of growth during last month’s meeting.

When addressing global conflicts, McCarthy said, “The Army will stay the course. Our priorities— Readiness, Modernization & Reform— have not changed. We are here to finish what we started.”

He went on to say, “The last 18 years of conflict built muscle memory in counter insurgency, tested our leadership and hardened the force. We now need to shift focus to our strategic readiness.”

McCarthy said there’s now a focus for the military to move from the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the Army wants to lead the way.

“Sixty percent of global U.S. Military demands are met by the U.S. Army,” McCarthy said. “We have no choice but for Readiness to be our number one priority.”

There were dozens of workshops, panels and forums, featuring Army leaders who addressed everything from spousal employment and quality of life for families, to suicide rates for the service members.

“We will devote resources and energy toward combating the suicide epidemic that is plaguing our ranks,” McCarthy said. “We need every member of this team.”

One of the most popular forums was the Army Senior Leaders’ Town Hall, which was a part of the “AUSA Military Family Forum” series. McCarthy, as well as the Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville and Michael Grinston, Sergeant Major of the Army, were the panelists.

They emphasized what the Army’s 5, quality-of-life priorities are— housing, healthcare, child development centers/child youth centers, spousal employment and permanent change of station (PCS) moves. The leadership didn’t shy away from honest conversation and questions from spouses, civilians and soldiers concerning all of those topics.

“We have learned a lot of lessons about housing issues,” McCarthy said. “One of those lessons is that the U.S. Army has to make sure our policies reinforce and not hinder solution-oriented behavior by our Army leaders.

Leaders said one improvement to speeding up the employment process for civilians and spouses, is that you can now onboard with just fingerprinting completion, instead of waiting for a full background check to begin working.

“Spouse Employment— We’ve put some programs in place to reimburse spouses for professional licenses,” McConville said. “PCS Moves— We now have the ability to pay a portion of DLA up front before the move. We want to incentivize Do-It-Yourself (DITY) Moves.”

During this forum, leaders also said they’re looking into allowing families to remain at a PCS duty in one area for four to eight years, if the Army can accommodate it, to help with a family’s quality of life.

“Part of our focus as part of talent management is understanding people’s preferences, to include their desire to stay in one location,” McConville said.

Grinston said sponsorship isn’t just for soldiers and leaders have to make sure they’re taking care of families and spouses during in and out-processing, including employment.

“Listening to our soldiers and their families is more important than anything we do,” McCarthy said. “Your feedback matters.”

It was also a packed room for the AUSA Military Family Forum on Housing and PCS Moves. The panel included Dr. Robert Steinrauf, Director of Plans and Resources Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-1; Maj. Gen. Michel Russell, Sr. Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4 United States Army; Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, Acting Commanding General for the United States Army Installation Management Command; Col. Kristen Casto, Director of Public Health with the Directorate Office of the United States Army Surgeon General.

Highlights included mention of having privatized and Army housing offices separately; having an IMCOM Headquarters for training on handling housing matters, which trickles down to Garrison commands; having housing leaders re-educate everyone on the importance of the chain of command and resources available; new hotlines and apps developed to better track housing work orders; the Army has implemented two policies in clarifying Army Medical roles, focusing on management and reporting, when it comes to lead/mold; developing a formal/official work order process to track problems in barracks.

“We’re hiring people to help fix the problems,” McConville said and when it came to lessons learned on Housing, he said, “We have to keep the Chain-of-Command involved. They’re responsible for taking care of Soldiers and Families.”

Another well-attended event was the Eisenhower Luncheon, with McConville as the keynote speaker.

He said the Army’s greatest strength and most important weapon are its people. The Army is now publishing its first Army People Strategy.

“People don’t want to be treated like interchangeable parts in an industrial age process,” McConville said.

He went on to say next year, as a part of Defender 2020 in Europe, the Army will mobilize and deploy forces in the largest exercise of its kind in 25 years.

“We have the opportunity to ensure that our Army remains the most dominant land force in the world for the next four decades, but we have to adapt,” McConville said. “This is not about fighting the last fight better, but it’s about winning the next fight.”

The Army Chief of Staff ensured everyone in attendance knew the importance of always keeping soldiers first.

“No matter how much technology we develop, soldiers will always remain the centerpiece of our Army,” he said. “We equip people, we don’t man equipment, and that philosophy will not change.”

McConville said the Army is moving towards a talent management system and will manage people by 25 variables, instead of two. He said it’s a system that recognizes and capitalizes on soldiers’ knowledge, skills, behaviors and even their preferences.

Also honored were the Best Warrior Competition winners— the NCO of the year, Staff Sgt. Dakota Bowen (TRADOC) and Soldier of the Year, Spc. David Chambers (FORSCOM).

Two Medal of Honor recipients were also in attendance and honored. The AUSA Volunteer and Volunteer Family of the Year, the Ellwien Family, were recognized.

The Lt. Dan Band, featuring actor Gary Sinise performed one night and Sinise also held a meet & greet, where he took photos with guests and provided a signed copy of his book.

While much of the events focused on family life, the talks about the future of the Army were front and center and McConville expressed his confidence and support in the military. “America’s Army will never be out-gunned, it will never be out-ranged, and it will never be over-matched,” McConville said.