Guest Blog Post By: Natasha Harth
WASHINGTON, DC – Last Thursday I attended the semi-annual Military Family Readiness Council meeting held at the Pentagon Conference Center. I’m going to assume that many of the readers knew about as much as I did walking into that meeting, so here are some quick facts:
- Congress created the DoD Military Family Readiness Council in 2008,
- The council is required to meet twice a year and publicly publish an annual report,
- The council is comprised of no more than 18 members to include the following: Under Secretary of Defense (or representative), one spouse or parent of each service branch, one service member from each branch as appointed by the Secretary of Defense, three individuals appointed by the Secretary of Defense from military family organizations, the senior enlisted advisor or spouse of each branch, and the Director of the Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs (as stated in the bylaws).
Now that we have the basics out of the way, I am going to focus on observations of last week’s meeting – the first one I have ever attended. The initial thought I had when walking into the conference room was the lack of attendance. Pondering the lack of spectators, I later learned that the only place the council advertises for its meetings is in the Federal Register. There’s a good chance you have never heard of or read this publication, like many of us. In keeping current with how people access information, I believe that social media would be the best platform to advertise these meetings (and it’s free), followed by local bases and military-affiliated publications, if the budget allows.
Another thought to keep in mind is accessibility. The Pentagon can be daunting even for those of us with clearance to enter on our own. In order for the everyday military service member or a family member to enter the Pentagon, they must arrange for an escort and go through extensive transportation and security measures to get there. One suggestion would be to host meetings at a location on any of the many military bases in the Capitol Region, which is easier to access and navigate to.
My Experience with the Family Readiness Council
At the start of the meeting, handouts were distributed outlining what would be discussed. The first topic was military family financial readiness. I found the review of information to be most helpful, but would have preferred the council’s conversation to be about the slides, not reading them verbatim. Rather than aggregating too much information involving statistics, numbers, and acronyms that can become deadening, it is best to give a statistic and give a relatable example. We live in a world made up of sound bytes and catch phrases – quick highlights of information followed with a link to read more, if desired. The information on the slides should be the “more,” allowing these precious 4 hours per year to be spent on real conversation about the results.
For example, the first topic of discussion was the financial standing of military families. According to the Defense Manpower Data Center survey, a whopping 72% of active duty families feel that they are “financially comfortable.” We got so bogged down in the numbers and statistics that it didn’t leave much room for conversation. Council member Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody pointed out several times that this self-measure of financial comfort, without any civilian benchmark to compare, should be taken with caution. This is something I feel should have been elaborated on. Perhaps a discussion about how to revamp the survey to include quantifiable answers, a plan to compare with civilian studies, reaching out to Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and other aid societies to find out how much aid has been given to military families versus having all information self-reported, etc. Personally, I feel that a survey allowing service members to personally judge their financial status is not as valuable as one with real numbers. If the council forgoes lecturing off of the slides and dives right into conversation, more answers and important questions can be raised.
The second topic of discussion was the Military Health System Pediatric update, which was forced to close early due to time constraints. After reading off the information from the slides given, there was no room for discussion afterward. This also cut off deliberation over the two public comments provided to the council this period.
Back to my first suggestion for progress, the fact that only two public comments were given to the council is clear evidence of military families being unaware that the council exists, let alone that it is open for comments and suggestions. According to the Council Charter Amendment published in the Federal Register on 04/29/2010:
“Pursuant to 41 CFR 102-3.105(j) and 102-3.140, the public or interested organizations are reminded that they may submit written statements to the committee membership about the committee’s mission and functions. Written statements may be submitted at any time or in response to the stated agenda of planned meeting of the Department of Defense Military Family Readiness Council.
All written statements shall be submitted to the Designated Federal Officer for the Department of Defense Military Family Readiness Council, and this individual will ensure that the written statements are provided to the membership for their consideration.”
I believe in the power of this council. It has the ability to be a tool to improve the lives of service members and gives us all a voice, but visibility must be increased in order for it to be effective. I am going to do my part in helping the council by submitting my recommendations for modernization, increased visibility and accessibility with the council this week. Modern military families depend on technology; it is imperative that information be brought to the platforms they employ. If any readers out there would like contact the Military Family Readiness Council, contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Annual reports can be found at: DoD Military Family Readiness Council
About the Guest Blogger: Natasha Harth is the 2016 Armed Forces Military Spouse of the Year, Employment Analyst for Army for Life, and spouse of Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Patrick Harth. She is an advocate for volunteering and community involvement. Natasha enjoys spending time with her husband and two young girls cooking, being out in nature, and attending local festivals and events.