Senior Army leaders on Thursday highlighted increased investments in housing, child care and other quality of life improvements for soldiers and families.
“We’ll continue to make changes to ease the stresses and burdens on our families,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, during a military family town hall at the Association of the U.S. Army’s virtual annual meeting.
Privatized companies are on track to provide an additional $2.8 billion for Army family housing over the next five years, McCarthy said. Those billions will bring 3,800 new homes and nearly 18,000 renovations of homes across the country, he said. Army leaders met with investors and bankers Oct. 14 to discuss investments in privatized Army housing, he said.
While officials have made progress in their efforts to hold privatized housing companies accountable for the quality and safety of Army family housing, and to improve Army oversight over the companies' efforts, McCarthy said, “we owe it to our families and service members and families to do much, much more.”
Officials are also undertaking a $9 billion plan for barracks improvements over the next 10 years.
As officials work to address the critical shortage of child care in the Army, improvements include increasing the number of employees at child development centers by 7 percent, and adding nine child development centers over the next five years to increase the number of child care spaces by 5,000, McCarthy said.
Army officials have also communicated the chain of command’s responsibility for quality of life, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “We’re telling them we’re putting a lot of resources into initiatives, and we’re paying at this level for quality services and quality housing,” so officials want leaders on the ground to make sure that quality is happening. "We expect leaders to go into barracks and make sure we have quality barracks for soldiers. We’ve hired inspectors for quality [household goods] moves and we want the chain of command to be involved in that.
"We know there’s transition going on in health care, and it’s exacerbated by the COVID environment. So we need leaders to make sure soldiers are getting the care they need, and if not, get it up to the appropriate level.
The leaders were asked a number of questions, and addressed such topics as how longer tours have highlighted the need to provide more stability for families, while at the same time meeting the needs of the soldier and the Army mission. This issue has been studied before COVID, and during COVID.
Asked what keeps them up at night regarding Army families, McConville said he worries that the quality of life resources the Army provides to soldiers and families aren’t equal to the sacrifices they make every day. Whether it’s housing, health care, child care, spouse employment or household goods moves, every service member and family deserves high quality services, he said.
McCarthy said he’s concerned about the “enormous load” soldiers and families are carrying this year. “We’re doing what we can for a better quality of life, but I worry about the stress level,” he said.
“We’re not going to rest … until you get the quality of life you deserve."
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.