During this period of fiscal uncertainty, senior Army leaders remain committed to providing a high level of care and support to Soldiers and their families – making them an Army top priority.
Taking care of Soldiers and families ensures readiness, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, during a forum focused on military families at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10.
About 60 percent of today's Army is married and on average has a family of four. This is a fundamentally different demographic than Soldiers serving during World War II, when only 10 percent of the Army population was married.
"That fact means that we have to elevate taking care of Soldiers and their families to a higher order in our resource prioritization to maintain readiness," Milley said. "We want the Soldier to focus on the shoot, move, communicate, protect, and sustain tasks necessary for combat readiness. That Soldier will not be able to focus and devote the time necessary to those skills if they are worried that their child doesn't have adequate medical care or if their house has mold."
Improvements to Army programs and infrastructure usually come at a cost. Today's Army family is more aware of the service's complex operating environment and resource constraints.
"Times are very difficult, and a lot of this is out of our control to get sustainable, sufficient, predictable funding over a six- to seven-year period has been a challenge," said Acting Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy. "At times when you get these mechanisms called continued resolutions, we have a very unpredictable environment. It creates churn, complexity and affects families."
McCarthy's singular focus is building a budget that has the resources needed to support the force.
Soldiers believe things will get better in the future, according to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. "They have hopes in the civilian leaders of this great nation, as well as our military leadership," he said, "that they will continue to provide the necessary resources."
Through all the cutbacks and constraints, Dailey was quick to acknowledge the outstanding resiliency of the total force.
"Soldiers have bonded together at installations, camps, and stations across our Army to make things happen and support our Soldiers and the warfighting mission," he said. "We take better care of our Soldiers and their Families than any other Army in the world."
During the forum, one person addressed a concern about post-traumatic stress disorder and military suicides.
Army leadership has made behavioral health resources readily available to all Soldiers at the unit level, Dailey said. These resources include behavioral health screenings whenever Soldiers in-process or leave a duty station.
More importantly, education and support was put in place to help break the stigma attached to depression and PTSD, Dailey added.
People struggle and sometimes there are external factors that create extreme stress, Milley said.
"Scientifically we know that the brain is a mass of chemicals and tissue matter, and if struck with a hard blow over pressure from an explosion or firing munitions, it can physically impact the brain and fundamentally change its chemical make-up," he said, adding that stress could also alter the chemical make-up of the brain.
"No one should hold a stigma because that can happen to any one of us, at any time," the general emphasized.
Soldiers also need to be fully empowered and ready to intervene when lives are at stake, Milley said.
"In many cases, when we have suicide across the force, someone else saw the indications but failed to do something about it," Dailey said. "Peer intervention is the key. Sometimes someone is suffering … and they need an intervention."
With 1.2 million people involved in the Army mission, Army senior leaders are looking to the force for more feedback.
"We are your secretary, your chief of staff, your sergeant major. We are your leaders. We're active and we want to solve your problems," Milley said.
Milley requested that Soldiers email them directly, as they want to know more about the education systems, daycares and housing in, or around, a duty station. Furthermore, they would like to receive feedback about the National Guard or Reserve.
"There are a lot of layers between us and ground truth," Milley said. The organization is so large that there are issues out there that we won't see and we want to help solve them. Sometimes those issues can be solved."