DoD Officials Share Updates With Association

“Sequestration will damage the long-term readiness of the Department of Defense (DoD), but we don’t have all the details on how it will be implemented.” And, “DoD must solidify partnerships with organizations supporting service members and families, but DoD leaders know their policies and procedures sometimes make partnering difficult.”

These statements summed up much of the discussion that occurred during a two-day Pentagon roundtable meeting between DoD officials and twenty-one military and veterans organization leaders. National Military Family Association Executive Director Joyce Wessel Raezer participated in the invitation-only roundtable and voiced her appreciation to the new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, for reaching out to associations so quickly after assuming his new job as Secretary. Secretary Hagel conveyed his thanks to service members, military families, and veterans and spoke forcefully about the impact of the events since September 11, 2001 on them and the Nation. He shared his opinion that the tough budget realities facing DoD would not change and encouraged a discussion on how the Department could work more effectively with military and veterans organizations.

Sequestration and DoD partnerships with private organizations certainly were the most persistent discussion points raised over the two days. But Association leaders were able to hear from and question senior officials on a wide variety of issues. They received briefings on operations, individual Service challenges, budget issues, personnel and readiness programs, family programs, suicide prevention, health care, transition assistance, service member licensing and credentialing, and sexual assault. Association leaders were able to learn more about how DoD plans to deal with sequestration, especially following the passage of a new Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year. When asked to heighten their support of service members and families in partnership with DoD during these difficult budget times, Association leaders shared the challenges they often faced in reaching out and gaining access to installations.

Executive Director Joyce Raezer states that she came away from the roundtable with a satisfaction that DoD officials wanted to engage in dialogue and partnership with military and veterans associations. She also gained a greater understanding of the budget issues facing DoD under sequestration and the challenges it faces in maintaining the readiness of the force to meet the demands of national security. She also appreciated the opportunity to ask many of the sequestration-related questions we’ve received from families in order to update our Association’s Sequestration information page.

Here are just some of the things she learned:

  • All Services are trying to increase the dwell time for service members to allow more time at home between deployments, but have not quite reached their goals.
  • New hot spots and challenges continue to emerge. Right now, Iran, North Korea, areas of Northern Africa, and cyber security issues, in addition to Afghanistan, are demanding a lot of attention and decisions on how to position our forces to deal with the changes.
  • DoD has launched a new review of its Defense Strategic Guidance, looking at 2015 and beyond.
  • One critical issue is what the new operational model for the Guard and Reserve might be and how to maintain the proficiencies developed by Guard and Reserve service members and units over the past decade while not having a heavy impact on the budget, employers, or families.
  • Cyber capabilities will grow even as other initiatives shrink. DoD must look at different personnel skill sets, which might require different types of deployments. The big difference between this drawdown and previous ones is the speed—the cuts aren’t as deep, but are happening faster.
  • Support by DoD for public events—flyovers, band performances, color guards, fleet weeks, Service birthday celebrations, holiday event support—will almost completely disappear after April 1. Travel costs for these activities will be cut and very few events will qualify for waivers, thus decreasing the connection between the military and civilian communities.
  • Service priorities in this budget environment remain on supporting the forward deployed. Training was impacted by budget reductions, but leaders believe the newly-passed appropriations bill will help. However, a continued lack of training funds will harm productivity and morale, said officials, who also asked: “What do young troops do if they can’t train?”
  • DoD is reviewing its civilian furlough plans in light of the funding provided in the new appropriations bill.
  • DoD schools are close to arriving at a decision on how to meet the budget and complete a full school year with just a few furlough days at the school level.
  • Commissaries will probably close on Mondays, rather than on Wednesdays. However, commissaries already closed on Mondays may also be closed on Tuesdays.
  • DoD hopes to exempt Child Development Center workers from sequestration to maintain the current level of hours.

DoD officials also asked Association leaders to push out information on several resources:

  • Anonymous Sexual Assault Crisis Support Resource for Active Duty and Transitioning Service members: www.safehelpline.org
  • Military Crisis Line to provide confidential mental health and suicide prevention support: 1-800-273-8255; www.MilitaryCrisisLine.net; or text to 838255.

We thank the DoD Office of Public Affairs for arranging the roundtable and encourage the Department to continue its outreach to a wide array of military and veterans organizations. We look forward to future discussions on partnering and sharing information about the work we do with others.

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