Improving quality of life one of AF's top challenges

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott Elliott
  • Air Force Print News
Acknowledging that the current operations tempo has placed a severe strain on airmen, the secretary of the Air Force told the service's first sergeants that supporting quality of life issues is one of his top priorities.

"I view this as one of the Air Force's most critical challenges," said Dr. James G. Roche at the Worldwide First Sergeant's Conference held recently in Jacksonville, Fla. "(Air Force Chief of Staff) Gen. John P. Jumper and I are absolutely committed to creating conditions to enhance workplace effectiveness and increase the quality of life for our members and their families."

The secretary spoke of a "fundamental contract" between volunteer military members and their families and the American public, which benefits from their collective sacrifice.

"This partnership is built on understanding that families, as well as the servicemember, contribute immeasurably to the strength of the American military," he said. "As a result, we need to make a tangible and substantive commitment to improving quality of life. Action, not talk, is what it will take to deliver this goal."

Education benefits, for both the servicemember and the family, were first on the secretary's agenda.

"We're funding tuition assistance at 100 percent starting Oct. 1," he said. "To increase our support for military (family members) in public schools, we've asked each base to appoint a full colonel to represent our interests in their local school boards. Our military children will now have an advocate to support their needs."

Early indications show this is having a positive effect, particularly with testing requirements and admissions criteria. A similar new initiative will combine education with career development.

"I'm proud of our new initiatives to increase Air Force Institute of Technology attendance...and to make advanced education available to those senior enlisted members who qualify for our graduate degree programs," Roche said.

On the home front, the secretary is looking to beef up family support programs, with special attention paid to spousal employment and communication.

"One area I'm pleased about is our initiative to improve spouse employment and create exportable skills," he said. "In a test program at Cannon (Air Force Base, N.M.), we partnered with industry and taught 17 spouses how to create their own online businesses."

As a testimonial to that program's success, two of the 17 spouses made permanent change of station moves and took their businesses with them to the new locations.

"Our vision is to partner with industry and bring this capability to every family support center in the Air Force," Roche said.

In addition, the secretary said he wants to increase the flow of information to families in these times of increased operations tempo.

"We must communicate with families," he said. "Accurate, timely information and honest communication is the best medicine to overcome the anxiety and stress created by demanding work schedules, frequent deployments and the challenges of the military lifestyle."

Roche said these actions are important investments in the people who maintain and operate the service's complex systems, not examples of hollow philanthropy.

"In my 40 years of military and business experience, I have learned that people remain the most important resource in any organization," he said.