The Difference is YOU!

INSCOM Spouses Conference focused on fostering the spirit of improved communications and family unity in working together to make life better

By Portia M. Davidson

    Three issues topped the list of discussions at the 1997 INSCOM Spouses Conference held Jan 7-9, 1997, at Fort Belvoir, Va. The issues of teen involvement and employment, diminishing health care and the challenges of working and living in a joint service environment were briefed at the conference’s conclusion.

    Held in conjunction with the Commander and Command Sergeants Major Conference, 21 INSCOM command spouses from the European, Pacific and American regions met to discuss issues. Topics concern included spousal employment, junior spouse involvement and quality of life. Attendees listened to guest speakers from the Department of Army, DoD, and other professional outside organizations.

    Brig. Gen. John D. Thomas Jr., INSCOM Commander, opened the conference by telling spouses he hoped they would return to their units with a renewed sense of unity and communication. He urged them to adopt an empowering style of leadership which nurtures, coaches, mentors, supports and encourages families to be self-reliant.

    The theme for the fourth annual INSCOM Spouses Conference was, "The Difference Is You." Thomas told the attendees the conference provided a means to keep the chain of concern and command open.

    Peter Issacs, deputy commander for programs, U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, presented an overview of the morale, welfare and recreation program. He emphasized the importance of participating in morale, welfare and recreation activities and shopping at local AAFESfacilities. Isaacs explained that profits from the facilities are reinvested into the community.

    Issacs also shared analysis results of a recent survey of how morale, welfare and recreation programs were rated by military personnel and Army families. Fitness centers, libraries, child development, youth, automotive skills, outdoor recreation and travel ranked high in importance.

    In his remarks concerning Army families, Issacs mentioned the change in focus from an "Army taking care of its own, to an Army teaching its own to take care of themselves."

    Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families, and education, updated the attendees on quality of life issues, accomplishments and initiatives.

    "The DoD quality of life executive committee is committed to ensuring satisfied customers, superior service, high quality and low-costs as high pay-off initiatives to improve quality of life," she said.

    She stated one of the most important factors in retention was the Army’s ability to provide decent and affordable housing. Deferred maintenance, revitalization and replacement have resulted in 64 percent of military homes classified as "unsuitable" by the services.

    A quality of life accomplishments paper stated Congress approved a $557 million plus-up in fiscal year 1996 for housing improvements. In fiscal year 1997, Congress appropriated $4 billion for family housing construction, which is $252.9 million more than the department’s budget request.

    Becraft mentioned other achievements, such as a model communities incentive awards program. The program offers up to $200,000 per year for each of three years to installation personnel who develop innovative programs to counter escalating reports of youth violence, gang-like activities and other risk behavior taken by youth on DoD installations.

    "Providing value-enhancing solutions that become a part of your way of life is one of our strengths," stated Becraft. It is good policy to have programs that promote a healthy balance between work and families, because it contributes to mission readiness and is a high yield investment in the future of America.

    Max Beilke, deputy chief of Army retirement services, told spouses the Military Survivor Benefit Plan was enacted to provide surviving spouses with the security of a portion of the retiree’s pay. He noted only 54% of all retirees participate in the program. Beilke emphasized the importance of being educated on the options available concerning retirement. He also mentioned numerous information services available on Army retirement services.

    "The CSA Retiree Council, internet availability through the worldwide web, AUSA and Military Coalition, Military City on Line, and Retirement Chat will answer retirement questions and address issues of concern," stated Beilke.

    Other professional speakers included Robert Winchester, special assistant to the Secretary of the Army for legislative affairs; Chaplain (Col.) James E. Russell Jr., INSCOM headquarters; Teresa Campbell Maude, contractor/consultant for the New Parent Support Program; Lt. Col. Bradley J. Nystrom, chief, Army CommunityServices; Dorothy Nelson, Army family team building training coordinator, and Dr. Jeanne Allegra, a practicing clinical psychologist.

    A wellness/health risk assessment program conducted by the DeWitt Army Hospital Wellness Center proved a valued addition to the conference. Gloria Dean, Wellness Center director, offered spouses a health risk appraisal, as well as checks on cholesterol, blood pressure and body fat levels.

    A special arts and crafts workshop was conducted by Jan Osthus, chief, Army arts and crafts program. The arts and crafts program began as a way to promote morale and esprit de corps during World War II. Since then, the program has continued to provide a respite from the rigors and stresses of combat and training. Kaye Evans, an educational consultant, demonstrated the art of picture framing and associating color schemes to choose the right background material for the frame.

    The spouses worked in group sessions tackling quality of life issues which had INSCOM and Army-wide implications. INSCOM’s commander solicited the spouses’ feedback on the issues raised because of their importance to the command’s soldiers, families and civilians.

    "There is no substitute for the personal contact given at the conference. The networking and sharing of ideas was most valuable," said Carolyn Berlin, conference participant.

    At the conference’s end, the spouses briefed commanders and command sergeants major on issues studied. Some of the categories discussed were: command emphasis on the Army family team building program, health risk assessment for their spouses; improved communication for command information, enforced sponsorship, and morale issues in base closure situations.

    The INSCOM Spouses Conference allows unit spouses from the global command to come together and work as a family toward a better quality of life for soldiers and civilians.

    "Our aim is always to improve every year, and we do. We take very seriously the critiques from the spouses," said Sarah McCormick, wife of INSCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Sterling T. McCormick. "We ask them to be very candid. If there are things that need to be changed we certainly take them into consideration and implement them if they are valid," she said.

    Portia M. Davidson is a special programs advisor in the office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel at INSCOM headquarters.

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   Last Updated: April 30, 1997