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By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes

GARMISCH, Germany — After three days of discussing the biggest problems facing U.S. troops and their families, the top enlisted leaders in Europe know it’s up to them to find the solutions.

The command sergeants major said participants at this week’s U.S. European Command Quality of Life Conference walked away with more than just another binder, pocketful of business cards and pretty photographs of the Bavarian Alps.

They left with a mission: take care of the troops.

“We have some of the brightest kids in the United States,” said Marine Command Sgt. Maj. John Mersino of the U.S. European Command. “You can’t retain these guys if you blow them off. You can’t retain them if you don’t take care of them.”

“So the credibility issue is on our shoulders now to take these issues forward, address them, and find solutions for as many as we possibly can.”

The conference, held Monday through Wednesday at the Edelweiss Lodge, was to air concerns about pay, housing, medical care and other issues. The issues were discussed and prioritized and recommendations were made.

Among those in attendance to hear the recommendations were EUCOM Chief of Staff Army Lt. Gen. Colby Broadwater III, and Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Defense for Military Personnel Policy William J. Carr.

Mersino said that U.S. troops, especially young ones who are fighting in wars, are given great responsibilities and should be compensated as well as, or better than, employees in the private sector.

“We have 18-, 19-year-old kids who make decisions involving human life on the battlefield,” Mersino said. “Those are decisions any CEO in any major corporation would be scared to death to make. But we’ve got kids doing it every single day.

“That’s the quality that we as institutions have to maintain. And you can’t do that by breaking promises, breaking faith and not following through on what you said you were going to do.”

More than 400 issues that had been raised by troops, family members and civilians were whittled down at the conference to a top-20 list of issues.

Some issues addressed the deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other sites: inadequate training and equipping before deployment, and few services or outreach for the deployed’s spouses and children. Others pointed out the bumps encountered in dealing with everyday hassles pertaining to housing, relocation or insurance.

Top issues were then given recommendations on how to fix the problem.

For example, for spouses looking for work, it was suggested that military communities create a hub for local job opportunities. Currently, in some cases, job-seekers are forced to plow through worldwide listings to find positions in their area.

Another suggestion was to allow accrued education benefits not used by servicemembers to be used instead by their spouses and children.

Tending to family needs helps the warfighter stay focused, according to Marine Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, senior noncommissioned officer at NATO’s Allied Command Operations.

“If I know the medical requirements for my family are being taken care of when I deploy, I can focus on my mission,” McMichael said.

“When I know my child is getting the proper education and my spouse is getting educational opportunities, that makes me more efficient to do the things I have taken an oath to do.”

Command Master Chief Paul Knauer, a Navy SEAL and the top NCO for Special Operations Command Europe, said he was confident that steps would be taken as a result of the conference.

“The terminology I hear used more and more often is the ‘30-year career,’” Knauer said. “To make the military as attractive [an employer] as a Fortune 500 company, they’re going to have to do things … to address the whole family to keep people in for that long.

“I have absolute certainty these individuals who are here are going to take these back and address them. If there is a slowing down of inertia, then it’s our responsibility to prod and poke and make sure the answers do come out.”

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