| WASHINGTON, March 30, 2007 Its imperative especially during wartime that the Defense Department continues to provide viable family and troop morale programs for servicemembers and their families, a senior Defense Department official said here yesterday.
Our military families are the heart and soul of troops on the battlefield, Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, told the House Armed Services Committees subcommittee on military personnel at a Capitol Hill hearing.
The Defense Department has made family support a priority and redesigned and boosted family support in a number of ways to recognize the crucial role families play in supporting servicemembers deployed worldwide in support of the war against terrorism, Arsht said.
Military families cite communication with their deployed servicemembers as their No. 1 concern, Arsht said. Among other initiatives, defense officials haves established special computerized communications centers that help keep families and servicemembers connected during deployments, she noted.
Military families also want easy and quick access to information thats important to them, Arsht said, and she cited two Web-based Defense Department initiatives designed to meet that need.
Military OneSource is a 24-hour information and referral service at www.militaryonesource.com that provides information about parenting, child care, educational services, financial information and counseling, Arsht said.
Military Homefront is the departments quality-of-life web portal at www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil that provides useful information about stateside or overseas moving, spouse job information, and more. These services also support National Guard and Reserve military families, Arsht added.
Military family support and assistance centers established across the services remain the backbone of support provided to families in the military, Arsht said.
The military services also provide counseling support to help families cope with separations due to servicemembers overseas deployments, Arsht said. Trained family counselors can help families with life management issues such as reunion expectations, loneliness, stress, long separations, effects of deployment on children, loss and grief and more, she said.
The departments commissary, military exchange and child-care systems all provide important support to military families, Arsht said. Military families save more than 30 percent annually on groceries by using their local commissary and save 16 to 20 percent at their local exchange stores, she noted.
About 42 percent of junior enlisted servicemembers who use child care said they were moderately to very concerned about the issue during their last deployment, Arsht said.
Accordingly, the department has provided $228 million in funding for military child care since the start of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, she said, while creating about 7,000 more child care spaces at 37 child care centers. The department has earmarked another $82 million, Arsht said, for expanding existing child care facilities.
Another program, Operation Military Child Care, provides support for the child care needs of geographically dispersed military parents, Arsht said, and is especially helpful for members of the National Guard and Reserve.
The military also provides several no-cost youth activity programs through partnerships with national organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H Clubs, and the Armed Services YMCA, Arsht said.
Overseas troops regularly enjoy top-name entertainment provided by the Armed Forces Entertainment, Arsht said. In 2006, AFE conducted 118 tours with 1,433 shows in 25 countries, she said. Entertainers include Gary Sinise, Colin Quinn, World Wrestling Entertainment personalities, the Harlem Globetrotters, and many more groups.
Additionally, the Spirit of America tour puts on shows for stateside military audiences, Arsht said. From 2002 to 2006, the Robert and Nina Rosenthal Foundation worked with the country music industry to provide 76 celebrity shows at no cost to military members and their families, she noted.
Defense officials will continue to do their best to support servicemembers and their families as the war against global terrorism continues and the Defense Department restructures itself, Arsht pledged.
The needs of individual servicemembers and their families must still be met, Arsht said. The department will continue to explore the most effective means of underwriting support to families and developing innovative new support systems.