Guest = Patty Barron, AUSA (Association of the United States Army) Director of Family Readiness. She is also a member of the DoD Family Readiness Council. AUSA is the Army’s professional association, like the American Medical Association. We try to educate, inform, and connect. We do the education part throughout the year, but especially through the AUSA Now, our 1st Annual virtual conference. Usually we have our meeting in person, about 32,000 people filling the convention center in D.C. This year we went to a virtual setting. We had over 20,000 people registered, and we tried hard to make sure people enjoyed the experience. We don’t just educate Army families–we are there for all branches and services. I host family forums and try to keep my ear to the ground so the topics we select are ones you care about. This year, we focused on quality of life initiatives: childcare, spouse employment, PCS moves, Household Goods, and healthcare. We connect with military senior leaders and Congress to keep them informed about your needs. We are the only association with a Family Readiness Directorate. I sit on the Board for the Military Family Advisory Council, which we will discuss later. And then the last part is Connecting–we travel throughout the country during the year. My husband served for 30 years and is now retired, so it isn’t always easy to stay current, but we travel and listen and make sure that we stay relevant for our families. 

AUSA membership is over 260,000 people. We want to represent all families in the Army, so if you aren’t already a member, we have special ways to sign up. 

DoD Updates from Megan: This is for Army families– QA inspections should be happening 100% either in person, by phone, or some means. If you haven’t heard from your inspector, reach out to your local transportation office. Also for Army families, there will be Claims Advisors working with the Claims Department for any claims that are 60 days or older. If you are having trouble with your claim after a move, there will be a Claims Advisor to help you get things settled. The Army PCS app is mostly information-based right now, but in the future it will be more interactive. 

Weight questions: You can file a request for exception to weight for a large family and several other specific situations, but the Army in general is now looking into increasing weight allowances, and they are working through the approval process along with the other branches. If you have a home gym or other equipment, having extra weight allowances will be a huge help. 

Let’s talk a little about AUSA. Can you tell us a bit about this organization, its mission and what it does, especially for a new spouse? 

Young Army spouses can gain so much information out there, but the trick is to find information that is vetted, current, and drama-free. My job is to make sure you have the most current information the Army has, to improve our lives. If you want good, accurate information and you want your voice to be heard and make a difference for those who come behind you, then you want to be a part of USAA.

Every year AUSA has an annual meeting. What is this annual meeting and what does it provide for soldiers and their families? 

The AUSA annual meeting is one of the main platforms the US Army uses to get their message out to service members, policy makers, and the nation. You’ll see senior leaders all over the place at the conference center! But it’s the regular families we are trying to reach with policy, and discussing where we are going with certain issues. Our AUSA Family Forums have the only Senior Leaders Town Hall where we have all three senior leaders present. They hear directly from our families. Megan, you made a difference in 2018 when you attended and asked that housing question! It’s the Army’s ability to tell their story, and your ability to interact with the Army.

This year the annual meeting went from in person to virtual due to the current environmental conditions- what was the experience of moving this big event to the virtual side, and will they keep the virtual component next year? 

We had to pivot to a virtual event in just 77 days, and I don’t think the directors slept that whole time! We had a live and a recorded component. The beauty was that a lot of people who weren’t previously able to attend were able to be there virtually. The other element is that it is usually a place where you see so many people who you know and have served with before. The only sad part is that the Marshall Award dinner at the end is usually a highlight, and this year for the second time ever the award went to a group– the Army family. It would have been so nice to fly people in and celebrate the Army family together, but I hope some people were able to enjoy the recording that celebrated Army families.

Last week was the AUSA 2020 Annual Meeting. Tell us about the exciting highlights! 

A lot of new information was provided, from innovations that are rolling out for spouse employment such as SECO (Spouse Education Career Opportunities) training for people rolling out of the MyCAA program. The Department of Labor announced that there will be a TAP program just for military spouses. They did a soft rollout a few months ago, and will begin providing in-person classes at four different locations, including Fort Hood and Fort Stewart. This is across branches at NAS Jackson and an Air Force base too, to answer questions that spouses have. We discussed survey results that found many spouses are getting into marketing and graphic design, so there is more need to find employment there. The Army and the DoD are really trying hard to find military spouses and hire them into positions, and helping you transition with that position to the next duty station. That was all from Forum 1.

Forum 2 focused on what currently is happening with military family moves. The Stop Move order was horrendous. They used Fort Leavenworth and the War College as pilot programs to see how they could move people during COVID. The Army safely completed over 72,000 PCS moves this year! There was great information during that forum. We don’t just want to focus on the physical logistics of moving, but we discussed childcare and education issues that are also part of the moving process. Childcare is an issue in almost every aspect of moving, working, etc. It doesn’t work well all the time, but it works well most of the time. We focus on other aspects of moving because we hear you and we know the challenges.

We are working on a transition project for spouses. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but bring all the information together so it is there when you need it. The spouse needs access to all the information the service member receives, because you transition as a family from the military. 

We’ve seen many spouses, from ALL branches of service, attend (or take part in) this event. For a new spouse, what is there for them? 

It’s very intimidating to come to an annual meeting by yourself, because it is a huge event in a conference center with so many people attending, so we tried to create smaller less-intimidating events. The Family Readiness Pavilion is a smaller area in the enormous exhibition space. It’s made up of non-profits and government agencies that are helping military families. We try to bring lots of information, always reaching out for new people so you can find out who is supporting you.  I don’t think enough people get to explore the Pavilion and the exhibit hall, because there is so much going on, so we want to make it worth your while. You can bring kids with you as long as they remain with you throughout the entire event. 

What would your  “dream forum” be for an Annual Meeting? 

I would love to do some kind of breakout session where you can follow up on some issues after a forum, if you didn’t get your question answered. My dream meeting would include a military spouse business pavilion, where entrepreneurs would have their own space to show off what they are offering. We could also do milspouse nonprofit corners in the pavilion to share their services with a larger audience.

Do you think we will ever have alternative childcare options for incoming and outgoing families during a PCS move? The alternative is often strangers watching your child in their home, which isn’t always safe.

That’s an excellent question! I am on the Board of Childcare Aware America. They have the data of where the childcare deserts are across the country. We want to fix the problem by offering Family Childcare (FCC) providers. We need to take another look at that and have ways the FCC provider can come to your home, and treat FCCs as a business training opportunity. When you are stressed during a PCS move, it makes sense to have a safe place where you can put your child. I will make sure the Army sees this suggestion. 

In addition to your role as Director of Family Readiness at AUSA….you also serve on the DoD Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC). Can you tell our audience WHAT the DoD Military Family Readiness Council is? 

It has been legislated into law so the DoD must have an MFRC, which has the role of looking at and having an opinion on DoD family programs being offered to military families. There are topics determined the year prior which will be discussed the next year. There are only 3 meetings a year! We felt we needed more, at least one per quarter. Many people are able to send in ideas to the council. I thought that meant we would discuss it during the meeting, which isn’t the case, but it lets us know what is in the queue to discuss in the future. For example, if a lot of people are discussing EFMP or childcare, we want to know that is important. We need to discuss the impact of COVID on childcare, education, employment, PCS moves, etc. For example, family members were being told to shelter in place, but the service member was going to work, which caused a lot of stress. We are also going to discuss military child education, which has become an even bigger issue due to COVID. If we get the extra meeting, we want to discuss childcare as a whole. It’s important that we educate our families as much as possible about not only what the military can provide, but also what we can find outside the gate.

Resources: Try to go to the source for the best information: Military One Source, AUSA, or your installation and unit official pages. We have AUSA Family Readiness Guides. We are planning to add a panel of military spouses at AUSA to amplify their voices. There is no way we can do this job without you, so we want to add voices and be part of your success. If you missed last week’s annual meeting, you can still register and access the recordings. DVIDS has the recordings on their website too. These will be up for a few months, and they will then be available on the AUSA Family page on Facebook.