WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) kicked off its annual 2021 convention, “America’s Army and its People, Transforming for the Future”, with a moving opening ceremony which included statements by the Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth.
The conference, which was held at the Marriott Marquis Convention Center in Washington, D.C., hosted over 15,000 Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians, and Contractors. With over 75 symposiums and forums on site, the U.S. Army reflected on its past and its future.
“Every leader has to ensure a command climate in which we take care of Soldiers as if they were members of our own family,” Wormuth said.
Wormuth thanked and acknowledged her pride for all the Army medical professionals for the work they did in partnering in Operation Warp Speed. A public–private partnership initiated by the United States government, Operation Warp Speed, facilitated and accelerated the research and development, of COVID-19 vaccines, over the past 18 months.
“Every year is a busy year for our Army but this year was extraordinary, the Army hasn’t just been maintaining readiness and operating in over 140 countries, it’s also been crucial in helping our country fight the deadliest pandemic in American history— And assisting in facilitating the production of a safe and healthy vaccine” Wormuth continued.
There were dozens of workshops, panels and forums, featuring Army leaders whose focus was on readiness, health care, child care, spousal employment, education, permanent change of station moves, and the overall quality of life for families, to suicide rates for the service members.
“Putting people first means aggressively getting after our Quality of Life priorities,” McConvile said.
AUSA Quality of Life panels were designed to educate, inform, and connect with Army families and Soldiers. Soldiers and families were encouraged to ask questions and be part of the conversation with comment cards and virtually on social media.
One of the most popular forums was the Army Senior Leaders’ Town Hall, which heavily focused on current and upcoming quality of life initiatives. Wormuth, as well as the Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army, Michael Grinston, were the panelists.
Fort Irwin Garrison Commander, Col. Jason Clarke, emphasized the risks illicit drug use places on installations and their Soldiers.
“With a focus on family resiliency, there is a growing concern with increased access to marijuana at many installations. This effects our readiness with increased soldiers testing positive for drugs, water supplies with environmental concerns of chemicals being put into our water tables, and energy resilience and marijuana farms take an exorbitant amount of water to grow. How is DoD and the Army leadership working with State and Federal legislators to address these concerns?” Clarke asked.
“Many young Americans have been raised in states where pot is legal and we have to grapple with that in a more comprehensive way,” Wormuth said. “We (the Army) have not grappled at all with the concerns you have brought up, like the draw that marijuana has on resources, I know water in areas like California and Colorado that’s an area that we have work to do.”
Occupational and Health officers said they would start to monitor the environmental impact industries like marijuana growth is having on the installation.
The weeklong conference also hosted a “Quality of Life at Your Fingertips” forum which covered issues such as employment, child care, healthcare and permanent change of station moves.
“Sometimes at your fingertips is literal,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, Director, Defense Health Agency. Place spoke on the need of returning to some in-person medical appointments and healthcare services.
The forum also highlighted family and in-home child care pilot programs, and the shortage of childcare providers Army wide.
One benefit, Military OneSource, acknowledged that the Army community is not aware of all of the resources it provides. Programs such as the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) has been designed to make direct access to information and resources virtual and user friendly.
“Military OneSource was built to meet people where they are,” Ms. Lee Kelly Director, Military Community Support Programs said.
Kelly said that Military OneSource can provide services from non-medical counseling, to education, employment, recreational and financial resources, all at no cost.
“If we want to retain Soldiers we have to retain their families,” McConville said. “We are competing for talent and this is why the quality of life initiative is so important, because we want to take care of families.”
McConville also noted that the U.S. Army exists for one reason, to protect this nation from all enemies foreign and domestic.
While much of the events focused on quality of life, transforming the future of the Army was an overall focus of AUSA.
“The IPPS-A, talent management will allow opportunities for soldiers to hone and employee their talents that benefit the Army the most,” McConville said.
McConvile mentioned the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A), and its component fluidity that will allow the Army to transform to a 21st century talent management system. McConville noted that many of the Army’s software designers have been found within the ranks utilizing this system.
Senior leaders took the opportunity to recognize and honor face to face Gold Star families, the Best Warrior Competition winners and the Volunteer Family of the Year.
“AUSA was a really big deal, several senior leaders attended. The main theme was people are number one priority,” Clarke said. “One thing I know that the people in our community will be interested in PCS moves reimbursements, if you were promised your delivery and did not receive it this is for you.”
Clarke urged all residents of Fort Irwin who have had household good’s issues to go to the Housing Office on Fort Irwin and file for the reimbursements that are available to them.
Clarke said that the forums he attended primarily focused on soldier and family Quality of Life and civilian retention and employment.