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Empowering the Air Force family enhances the total force.

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As Air Force leaders look to take care of Airmen, they don't separate Airmen from their families. Knowing that family will be cared for through deployments and changes in assignments is a huge factor in meeting the bottom line, mission accomplishment. With this in mind, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz designated July 2009 to July 2010 as the "Year of the Air Force Family."

During the Year of the Air Force Family, senior leaders are taking a closer look at support services and looking for ways to evolve and expand them to meet the needs and expectations of Airmen and their families.

Senior leaders from various specialties centered their commitments around four pillars of excellence: health and wellness; Airman and family support; education, development and employment; and Airman and family housing. "We make this commitment not only because it's the right thing to do for our Airmen, but because it is the smart thing to do for our Air Force," Secretary Donley said during a speech at the Air Force Sergeants Association Conference and Convention in August. "Enhancing our service to families and fostering a greater sense of community increases our mission effectiveness, both at home and while deployed. Our missions are demanding and our Airmen perform to their highest potential if they are unencumbered by worries about their families and personal affairs."

During a Caring for People Forum in April 2009, more than 200 behavioral specialists, chaplains, family advocacy personnel and other family support professionals searched for ways to enhance and develop support programs that better suit the needs of the Air Force family.

As a result of the forum, recommendations were passed to senior leaders to fill identified gaps in service. Senior leaders then set the plans in motion to start and expand quality-of-life initiatives.

EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY MEMBER PROGRAM SUPPORT ON THE MOVE

During a July presentation to the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy said more than 14,000 Air Force families are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program and it is important that moving these families doesn't have an adverse effect on their family or career.

Air Force senior leaders determined the need for a companion program to provide families with special needs more support as they move from location to location.

"We are actively engaged in creating a comprehensive program that offers these families consistent support and reassurance through their moves, extended or repeated deployments and throughout their military careers," Chief Roy said.

The Exceptional Family Member Program in the Air Force is currently a two-pronged approach with a medical and an assignment phase. The family support piece is missing, said Eliza Nesmith, the chief of Airman and Family Readiness.

In January 2010, Airman and Family Readiness Centers will be able to provide resources and referrals to bridge that gap.

The Air Force also received a grant to provide respite childcare for more families with exceptional family members. Soon, this childcare will also be available for those who don't live near an active-duty installation.

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"Depending on the special need, (families will) either be able to take the child to a provider's home or a child development center, or (their national contractor will) identify a person to come into the home of the exceptional family," Nesmith said.

Playgrounds for children with special needs are also in the works for eight installations across the Air Force.

WOUNDED WARRIOR SUPPORT

The Air Force Recovery Care Coordinator program now provides a single point of contact to help seriously injured, ill and wounded Airmen through the non-clinical aspects of their recovery.

So far there are 17 recovery care coordinators at 15 locations working with them and their families, Nesmith said. There are plans to hire more coordinators in the next fiscal year.

"We've also been actively engaged in improving care for wounded warriors, focusing on the recovery, rehabilitation and re-integration of these combat veterans as we encourage them to remain in uniform or enable their successful transition to civilian life," Secretary Donley said.

Recreation specialists are getting new training in therapeutic recreation. Swimming pool lifts, which will help wounded warriors get in and out of the swimming pool, are scheduled for installation on nine bases near major medical centers.

THE SINGLE AIRMAN VOICE

Many Airmen are single. Quality of life for them is also an important focus area during this year.

"Single Airmen are, of course, part of our Air Force family and share many of the same interests and needs," Secretary Donley said. "But we'll also stay focused on their unique requirements, such as dorms and MWR services, that offer fulfilling off-duty activities."

In the next year, Air Force leaders will continue to work toward improving the lives of Airmen through morale and welfare programs, housing including new Airman Ministry Centers.

Chief Roy, along with a group of chief master sergeants, is planning an enlisted summit for this spring. The summit will allow Airmen to give senior leaders feedback about their needs as single Airmen.

SCHOOL ADVOCATES FOR MILITARY CHILDREN

Military obligations can create a unique, sometimes stressful environment for military children. There are about 145,000 children from age 6 to 18 in today's Air Force families, said Nesmith. These children typically move six to nine times during their school years.

The need for a school liaison to serve as a single point of contact to smooth the transition for military children into local school districts was identified. The first liaisons are now in place with more scheduled. The school liaison serves as a primary advisor and acts as an advocate concerning school-related issues and military school-aged children. During a recent Military Child Education Coalition Conference, General Schwartz said the goal is to have school liaison officers at every domestic installation by fiscal 2011.

These are just a few of the programs designed to ease the stresses placed on Air Force families. Other programs address everything from facing deployment to family housing. Air Force leaders are committed to serving the families that serve the Airmen who make the Air Force mission happen. For more information on programs that benefit the Air Force family, visit the Year of the Air Force Family official web page at www.af.mil/yoaff/. The site highlights existing programs, improvements and offers links to family resources.

STORY BY STAFF SGT. VANESSA YOUNG
COPYRIGHT 2009 U.S. Air Force, Air Force News Agency
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Young, Vanessa
Publication:Airman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
Words:1076
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