Robert L. Gordon III, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy)
Last week, I returned from an outstanding trip to the Pacific Northwest where I had the opportunity to meet with families and spouses at Fairchild AFB and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), both in Washington State. If you’ve ever heard me speak in the past, you probably already know that I strongly believe that policy makers can’t make effective policies and programs from an office with three white walls and a picture window in the Pentagon; it is important to get out of the office and meet with Service members and families to make sure those policies and programs are hitting the mark. This is why I value my travel periods so much – they allow me to hear first-hand the issues and challenges that are confronting our families. In addition, these periods are also wonderful opportunities to hear about all the great things going on with our families that are keeping them strong, resilient, and mission-ready.
At Fairchild AFB, I received a very informative tour of the base from both wing leadership and family support helping professionals. The tour included a visit to the Airmen and Family Readiness Center and Michael Anderson Elementary School, a public school onboard Fairchild AFB where many of our military children go to school. I also participated in the first-ever Military Family Summit which included Congressional Military Family Caucus’ co-chairs Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-5th WA) and Congressman Sanford D. Bishop (D-2nd GA). The Caucus afforded military families and veterans in the Spokane area the opportunity to hear the latest news on military family support programs and allowed them to ask questions of me, the two Caucus co-chairs, and representatives from the Washington National Guard. The Caucus also featured breakout sessions on the topics of employment, health care, military housing, Guard and Reserve issues, the Exceptional Family Member Program, and education. The Congressional Military Family Caucus has their own Facebook page which you can access here to learn more about the Caucus and what your elected leaders are doing to help military families.
My time at Joint Base Lewis-McChord was equally informative and insightful. My two-day visit included meetings with base and local school district leaders and many, many helping professionals who are serving the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military and local communities, to include our wounded warriors. While I had countless meaningful discussions and learned about many programs making a significant impact on our military children and families, the highlight of my visit was meeting with Army and Air Force spouses and Family Readiness Group leaders on my final day. As with my time with the families at Fairchild AFB, this meeting with spouses at JBLM was an opportunity to discuss the latest family support initiatives at the DoD level and to have a dialogue about their issues and concerns. The discussions were candid and fruitful, and I as always, I learned a great deal.
So what issues did I hear most about? Between the two installations, the issues of most concern were almost universal: increased access to affordable child care, concerns about the future of military retirement and other benefits, licensure and certification for military spouse employment, education of our military children, consistency of family support program delivery between military Services, Exceptional Family Member Support, concerns with Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves, and many others. I will tell you what I told the groups of military families and spouses over the course of my visit: we are taking these issues and concerns very seriously, and your leadership in DoD and the military Services are being tenacious in both addressing these issues and ensuring that all our military families continue to receive the support they need to remain resilient and empowered.
Do you have the above concerns as well? Are there others you need to share? If so, please share them on our discussion. Perhaps there are solutions that other military families may have found that can help you through these challenges while we look at them from a policy level.
I hope to make more visits in the future to meet with more of our military members and families. Perhaps I’ll be coming to your neck of the woods soon! Until next time, be well!