WASHINGTON (AFNS) –
Air Force senior leaders and their spouses discussed the improvements in family programs and opportunities, their concerns cutting basic allowance for housing for a member of dual-service couples, as well as other topics of interest during the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 14 in Washington D.C.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and her husband, Frank Beatty; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and his wife, Betty; and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody and his wife, Athena, made it clear that their number one priority is the total force Airmen and their families.
Athena said she believes the Air Force and Defense Department are doing everything in their power to accommodate and continue improving quality-of-life programs for spouses and dependents of military members. However, one area of improvement that has been difficult is communicating that these opportunities exist.
"The opportunities that exist today never existed 20 and 30 years ago," Athena said. "All we have to do is communicate those opportunities. Make sure people know they're available and that they're there and that's probably the biggest obstacle as we travel around and speak to family members and spouses."
Opportunities like a $4,000 scholarship available for military spouses through the DOD's Spouse Education Career Opportunities program. According to the Military Spouse Career Advancement Scholarship factsheet the scholarship helps spouses "pursue licenses, certificates, certifications or associate degrees necessary to gain employment in high demand, high growth portable career fields and occupations."
James also pointed out the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, a three-phase program that according to their website, "includes two tracks of training; a growth track for participants already in business, and a start-up track, focused on potential entrepreneurs. Courses include business planning, marketing, accounting/finance, operations/production, human resources and work-life balance. Ongoing support and mentorship is delivered online and through a robust, comprehensive network of mentors and partners."
V-WISE is an initiative provided by the Veterans Affairs and Syracuse University and is geared toward women veterans and female family members of active-duty military members.
Making Airmen resilient
Cody said he believes there's more we can do to ensure Airmen and families are resilient enough that suicide is no longer an option, because it's something that's still happening.
"We're struggling with this significantly in our Air Force and we're trying to get our heads wrapped around it," Cody said.
"We lose far too many Airmen by them taking their own lives on any given day, I wish I had a good answer to how to get after this," he continued. "What I do promise you is we will continue to get after it. We'll continue to explore every possible way we can to increase the level of resiliency with our Airmen and their families and to make sure that every Airman realizes nothing is so hopeless that they would think to take their own life."
James said one of the most important issues impeding quality of life for Airmen and their families, is the possibility of BAH being eliminated for the junior member of a dual-service couple. Currently the issue is being negotiated in Congress.
"We think that's fundamentally unfair and to do so would be a big detriment to that individual Airman and to those families; it'd be a big hit to military compensation," James said.
Welsh echoed the secretary's concern.
"The secretary's right. That is something that just doesn't make any sense. Benefits should come to the individual, they've each earned it," he said.
Struggles of a military family
Welsh also talked about the concerns and struggles in trying to do the best that he and Betty could for their family all while overcoming the many obstacles and demands of military service.
"I don't think I've ever given my family the time they deserve, actually," Welsh said. "It's one of the things I worry about all the time and I don't think I'm an incredible family guy. I just love my family a lot and I married the right woman.
"... I spent most of the time my kids were growing up wondering if we ruined them, because we moved them so many times, took them out of schools and didn't get to do all the things that I would've loved to do with them, because we were doing something Betty and I thought was important. I was just blessed with someone that carried them through all that."
Years later, Welsh said his children have told him and Betty that they wouldn't have changed a thing. Their children appreciated the relationships they made along the way and the opportunities and experiences as well.