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Home : News : News
NEWS | March 25, 2024

SMA prioritizes quality of life with improved housing, child care, health programs

By Christopher Hurd Army News Service

As the Army moves into the second half of fiscal year 2024, the service continues its effort to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and their families with numerous projects and initiatives.

These initiatives are to provide Soldiers with the support they need to deter, fight and win against capable adversaries around the globe, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael R. Weimer.

"We're committed to supporting those Soldiers and their families, building cohesive teams across the Army, and ensuring we are fostering a safe and professional climate,” he said on March 20 during testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations. “This starts with building positive quality of life on multiple fronts."

Housing and Barracks

In the last few years, the Army’s investment in permanent party barracks has grown from $718 million in fiscal year 2021 to $1.5 billion in the 2025 budget request proposal released last week. This proposal outlines new projects that will provide at least 1,600 beds at eight locations.

“Soldiers and their families deserve safe living conditions,” Weimer said.

Across all three components, the Army requested $2.4 billion to build, improve and sustain barracks.

There are a total of nine barracks construction projects outlined in the budget: Fort Johnson, Louisiana; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia; Smith Barracks and two at Barton Barracks, Germany; Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; and Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, California.

To help with building infrastructure, the service is in the process of shifting barracks manager positions from a Soldier collateral duty to a professional staff position.

The Army is also working to improve family housing. There are four construction projects in the budget request, including 84 new housing units in Chievres, Belgium; 54 replacement housing units in Baumholder, Germany; 35 renovated units at Camp Zama, Japan; and an equity investment for the improvement of the privatized housing inventory at Fort Eisenhower, Georgia.

Child Care 

“The resiliency of our force is dependent on more than just housing,” Weimer explained. “Our Soldiers and their families need access to safe child care so they can remain mission-focused.”

To assist families, the Army has a Child Care Fee Assistance Program that helps reduce the cost of community child care for families with limited access to installations. This initiative helps offset costs for approximately 10,000 children per day.

Adding and renovating child development centers is an ongoing effort for the Army. The service is currently constructing four child development centers, has six in various stages of design and is renovating another 12.

Staffing the development centers has been challenging, Weimer said, despite pay increases, bonuses and expanded hiring initiatives. The service continues to streamline hiring to help maximize CDC capacity.

For reserve-component Soldiers, the Army started an intergovernmental service agreement with West Liberty, Iowa and Clayton County, Missouri to help find and fund child care during drill weekends. This service has proven to be life-changing and career-sustaining for some Soldiers, Weimer said.

Spouse Employment 

Making sure the more than 430,000 Army spouses have employment options is another key area for service leadership, he added.

One way the service is doing this is by promoting and improving the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship, which provides up to $4,000 in tuition assistance to spouses of active-duty service members in pay grades E-1 to E-6, W-1 to W2 and O1 to O-3. Spouses of National Guard and reserve Soldiers on Title 10 orders in the same pay grades are also eligible.

Other benefits available for spouses include the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership which connects them with hundreds of employers, and the Employment Readiness Program, which offers resume critiques, career counseling, job search assistance and more.

In addition, the service also created the Civilian Employment Assignment Tool that allows non-appropriated funded civilians to transfer installations. This program helped more than 600 spouses continue employment after a permanent change of station.

Mental and Physical Health

To prevent harmful behaviors in the service, the Army is developing a system that will support data-informed actions across the force. The system will focus on cultivating healthy communities and protective environments to ensure military community members thrive.

Part of the plan incorporates integrated advisory groups to support leadership. These groups will collaborate with other local prevention partners to make sure their approaches are on the same page. They will also share information, research, and evaluation findings to enhance protective environments and address harmful behaviors.

The service will continue to invest in the family advocacy program which helps Soldiers and families with domestic abuse prevention and response. It offers a wide range of prevention education programs to strengthen families.

“Family violence is a threat to the health, welfare and safety of Soldiers and family members and it severely degrades warfighter readiness,” Weimer explained. “The Army family advocacy program helps to strengthen Army families by enhancing resiliency and relationship skills and improving quality of life.”

Within the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, the service transferred sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates from the chain of command to an installation-based support model. This will streamline support and create professional oversight across the force.

The Army is also increasing the number of full-time sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates to support victims.

Health and fitness are other major areas the Army is putting an emphasis on. The Soldier readiness system, also known as Holistic Health and Fitness, is the service’s primary investment in building a better warfighter.

The system optimizes health and fitness by developing and sustaining positive habits learned through the five domains: mental, spiritual, sleep, nutrition and physical fitness. There are currently 50 Army brigades with Holistic Health and Fitness performance teams consisting of physical therapists, registered dieticians, occupational therapists, certified athletic trainers, cognitive performance specialists and strength and conditioning coaches.

The service continues to incorporate these teams within 15-21 brigades a year with the goal to have them in 111 brigades by fiscal year 2027.

“The H2F system provides a unified and holistic strategy to change the Army’s culture of health and fitness to build a better warfighter,” he said. “Investing in health and fitness benefits our Soldiers and their families and ensures the sustainment of an agile and adaptive Army.”

The Army continues to expand on these programs and initiatives as well as the Exceptional Family Member Program to give Soldiers the quality-of-life support they need.

“These efforts are all interrelated and nested with a broad effort to build a strong and successful team culture,” Weimer said.