Family-Support Program Expands; DoD, YMCA Strengthen Partnership

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 15, 2008 - In two Defense Department-led initiatives today, a military-family support program launched its nationwide expansion, and the Armed Services YMCA introduced a new offering to families whose loved one is deployed.

The Joint Family Support Assistance Program -- which helps families with financial and material support, coordinates counseling, and provides other key services -- expanded today from its pilot program to a nationwide network.

At a conference here this morning, participants from the pilot phase came together with about 400 representatives from 50 states and U.S. territories, where services will now be available to active-duty and reserve-component families.

Embracing the axiom that the military "enlists an individual, but re-enlists a family," the Defense Department has extended this support network, which focuses on assisting families who don't live near a military installation and therefore have difficulty accessing on-site services.

"Why are we undertaking this program?" David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, rhetorically asked the audience. "The answer is rooted in the realities of the all-volunteer force."

Unlike the conscripted force -- which comprised mostly unmarried military members with a 10-percent re-enlistment rate -- the all-volunteer force established in 1973 is now composed of servicemembers that are as likely to re-enlist as not. Furthermore, about half the troops are married, and many of these families have a young child, Chu said.

"We have an obligation to those families," he said. "We ask our military personnel to do a lot of hard and difficult things, and we will continue to ask to do many hard and difficult things. That means if they're going to be comfortable in that role -- that they're going to be willing to continue -- then their family must be supportive of the endeavors they undertake."

Chu called military bases "classic platforms" for providing support to families, but he conceded that not all families live within a reasonable distance to such facilities. Often, spouses have careers that require families to live far from base, or other reasons preclude living near installations.

The fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act required the Defense Department to implement a Joint Family Support Assistance Program for families in select parts of the country that are geographically isolated from installations. Since its inception, the program has provided services to more than 206,000 members and families at more than 4,900 events.

It has since evolved to include all 50 states, plus American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The program will connect families with one another and with supportive military and community resources, aiming to enhance families' ability to cope with deployment, reintegration, family separation and other issues related to a military lifestyle.

Chu said providing such support to families -- both near and far from military facilities -- is "crucial to our long-term military success."

Under the same rubric that pushed the Joint Family Support Assistance Program's nationwide expansion, the Defense Department today signed a new contract with the National YMCA that will provide free family YMCA memberships to families of National Guard or reserve members at the more than 2,000 participating centers in local communities.

Chu said the agreement is a way to "demonstrate the Department's strong commitment to the families of our National Guard and reserve families."

Beginning in October, free family memberships will be available for 18 months -- while the servicemember-spouse is deployed -- and for three months before and after the deployment. YMCAs offer fitness centers with free child-watch while the parent works out, as well as family and youth programs, swim lessons, personal development classes and more.

Detailed information is available at
Family-Support Program Expands; DoD, YMCA Strengthen Partnership  [ ]