Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer: How do you spell success? With another AAAA Summit at the Opryland! Opportunities abounded to see old friends, meet new ones, honor awardees, enjoy a fun Big & Rich concert, and the opportunity to hear an honest and candid update from our USAACE Command Team.
AAAA President, BG (Ret.) Steve Mundt, makes a point during the Spouse professional session with the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence command team, MG Bill Gayler (center), CW5 Joe Roland (left), and CSM Greg Chambers. / AAPI PHOTO BY RENÉ BIDEZ
MG William Gayler, CW5 Joseph Rowland, CSM Gregory Chambers and their spouses, Michelle, Kathy, and Rebecca offered a spouse professional program entitled “A Strategic Overview of Army Aviation Within the Larger Army.”
MG Gayler began by thanking the spouses for what we do and added, “It’s no surprise to you that the Army is busy.” He acknowledged that the operational tempo is high, and that in reality we could use more combat aviation brigades than the eleven currently within the Active Duty force. When the Army drew down, unfortunately, the requirements remained the same. With Aviation being the second most deployed branch, it is obvious that the strain is being felt here.
Gayler said that “…any future plans for aviation growth would require authorization from Congress and would also have to compete with other Army programs and priorities…” and if approved, would take about 4-5 years to grow a CAB.
When discussing training and potential requirements on the horizon, he reminded spouses that “We will never ask our Soldiers and Aviators to do something that they are not trained to do.” He said that there was also a new Army effort to alleviate a significant percentage of mandatory training requirements that should provide more time back to units.
Gayler asked the spouses to let his team know of challenges that they might not be aware of so “we can try to fix them.” He also encouraged spouses, especially for those in leadership positions, to remind their Soldiers to “set the example by coming home at a decent hour.”
When they do, everyone else in their units will follow their lead, and it will increase overall productivity as well.
CSM Chambers spoke about the character of Aviation Soldiers, specifically highlighting them as the “backbone of the Army.” He expressed his belief that Soldiers join the Army wanting to serve and to be part of a team, and discussed the importance of properly and rapidly integrating Soldiers into the unit. He also acknowledged that “The Army must continue to work to increase retention to alleviate stress on the current force and to ensure for the health of the future force.”
CW5 Rowland spoke about retention and attracting more people into the branch. He emphasized that while multi-generational families are a valuable source of recruitment, the Army must expand its search to attract men and women from other walks of life. He also encouraged spouse attendees to tap into their community resources, and remarked that a newly established leadership program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for warrant spouses in elevated positions has been well received.
An interesting discussion ensued about warrants who were being attracted to the airlines. MG Gayler said” We have to accept it, embrace it, acknowledge this mitigates risk to our nation, and account for it by bringing more people into the branch.” The second installment of an aviation incentive program is also underway, and is being better received. But Gayler did indicate that some are finding the transition to the commercial airline industry not all rosy; the pay and benefits are not always as great as advertised, and that it is important to be well-informed before making this decision to transition.
Family Readiness Groups (FRG)
There was much open discussion about FRG among spouses, as well as from the Command team. Michelle Gayler was mindful when saying “We need to relax and have fun every day.”
In today’s world where so much information is available on the web, it is not as important to flood spouses with information overload by having FRGs be all business. Michelle recommended “Be productive by throwing in a thing or two about the unit or the Army, but then make it fun!” She was genuine in her adage that “relationships are important and spouses need a human touch to make them want to stay around.”
Some spouses expressed their discouragement that events held when spouses were deployed were very well attended, but once their Soldiers returned they were back to square one with dwindling participation. They were reminded that this is characteristic at most installations, and “You were there to support them when they needed you, and when they need you, they will be there again.”
BG(Ret) Mundt, current AAAA President, also encouraged spouses who were in a deployment cycle to contact their local AAAA chapter and ask for their support.
In closing, it was refreshing for me to again hear that the Aviation branch command team acknowledges spouses have a significant impact on retention in today’s Army. I have always believed in the saying “If Mama ain’t happy, then nobody is happy!”