Caring for People forum identifies issues Published April 11, 2012 By Sarah Olaciregui 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Dozens of military members, spouses and civilian employees gathered at the Hanscom Conference Center April 3 to talk about quality of life, issues that are important to them and proposed solutions to those issues as part of the Caring for People forum. Col. Stacy L. Yike, 66th Air Base Group commander, opened the forum by encouraging participants to keep three things in mind. "The first thing I want you to remember today is all ideas are good ideas," she said. "We may not be able to fix everything, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least put it out on the table." The colonel also encouraged all forum attendees to focus on the issues and not look ahead to solutions. Her final point was to make sure the participants made sure their suggestions represented a "zero sum game" in times of tight budgets. "What would you be willing to give up in order to make your idea happen?" Yike said. "We want to make sure we're providing you with the right programs and activities and stop doing the things we no longer need to do." After the opening remarks, participants divided up into separate focus groups to discuss five different areas. The areas under consideration included health and wellness, family support, deployment support, single Airmen and special needs. Throughout the day, focus groups identified issues, grouped the issues into categories and prioritized and decided what items should be addressed to base leadership for local resolution or potentially forwarded to the Air Force for consideration. The single Airmen focus group looked at two items. Their first item of interest included the issue of base allowance for housing being delayed while residents are moving out of the dorm. Airmen in the group reached the consensus that it was difficult to pay for moving costs before receiving their first BAH payment. Even though they could receive an advance in BAH pay, it meant they went without BAH pay for the next month or longer. Their recommended solution was to allow airmen to start the paperwork for BAH sooner, allow more time in the dorms after final out or allow for a gradual repayment plan for advance BAH. The special needs focus group brought two issues forward for consideration. Their topics revolved around the Exceptional Family Member Program. The group's suggestions included training existing assignment team personnel on EFMP and its process so that a family's status is reviewed prior to receiving an assignment. The group also suggested that both new EFMP families, as well as supervisors of EFMP personnel, are educated on the program's needs and expectations. The family support group looked at BAH and cost of living adjustments. They suggested the Air Force look at BAH/COLA for all military families, as well as for E-1 through E-4 ranks. "Current amount of BAH/COLA is not sufficient for local area average living costs off-base," the group reported. "Cost of living, to include housing rates, on and off base is much higher than what the Air Force is currently compensating." The health and wellness group also focused on two issues. One suggestion the group proposed was to allow Department of Defense civilian employees to access the commissary and base exchange at their assigned location. Although the group recognized that commissary and exchange privileges are part of a military member's benefits package, they proposed that civilian employees have an opportunity to purchase annual memberships in order to have access to AAFES and DeCA facilities. The group also stressed the importance of a positive health and wellness lifestyle in the Air Force community. They offered that supervisors should promote participation in health and wellness activities during duty hours that are socially acceptable in the workplace and not just focus on passing a physical fitness test. The deployment support group focused on the deployment process design and implementation. They suggested making sure unit deployment managers are co-located with deploying members, establishing regular meetings with a UDM and possibly allowing a military member days off specifically to complete local requirements prior to deploying. The group also discussed deployment readiness. They stressed that leadership must put a priority on readiness either through status updates during staff meetings, using a common tool for monitoring readiness or enforcing pre-deployment requirements. Finally, in a separate meeting, Hanscom teens talked about teen job opportunities and access to the fitness center. The teenagers proposed several solutions for helping them find jobs, including an opportunity to be briefed about the summer hire program or creating a job coordinator at the Youth Center or Airman and Family Readiness Center. In addition, the teens suggested a reduction of the age restrictions for unaccompanied use of the basketball courts for 13 year olds and to allow full access to the fitness center at 16 years old. Teenagers also thought it would be a good idea to implement a fitness immersion class to help teens learn how to use equipment and avoid injuries. At the end of the forum, Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Call, Electronic Systems Center command chief, offered closing remarks. "The ideas you came up with today are incredible," he said. "It sounds like many of you were thinking about some of these things before today. I encourage you to keep on going from here." From this point, Air Force-level issues will be forwarded to Air Force Materiel Command for evaluation along with other AFMC installation issues. AFMC will forward selected issues to the Air Force Caring for People forum this summer. Local issues raised will be taken to Hanscom's Integrated Delivery System (IDS) team to identify appropriate organizations or individuals for resolution. Watch for future articles in the Hansconian on how items discussed during the Caring for People forum are being resolved.