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Jill Cheatham shops with her daughter, Jenna, at the Vilseck commissary in July. The Defense Commissary Agency recently received high marks in a U.S. European Command quality-of-life survey.

Jill Cheatham shops with her daughter, Jenna, at the Vilseck commissary in July. The Defense Commissary Agency recently received high marks in a U.S. European Command quality-of-life survey. (Seth Robson / S&S)

“Nobody thinks Britney Spears is music worth fighting for.”

That was one of many humorous responses to a recent quality-of-life survey conducted by the European Command. It was also just the sort of comment EUCOM was looking for.

Military leaders in Europe wanted to take the community’s pulse in large part because of transformation — the realignment of the military that has resulted in a series of base closures and downsizing across Europe. Issues raised by the survey will be used for discussion at a conference held by EUCOM in December.

The survey asked whether people were satisfied with something — yes or no — and then offered space for comments. Those comments were the most important part of the survey, officials say.

“Some of the comments were very detailed and very descriptive of reasons folks were either satisfied or dissatisfied,” said Air Force Maj. Eliza Knutson, who works in the command’s quality of life branch.

The survey found that people are satisfied with their quality of life — with some exceptions.

Remarks about Morale, Welfare and Recreation services, Department of Defense Dependent Schools, child care, counseling services, Reserve support, the United Service Organizations, the Red Cross and post services were positive overall.

According to EUCOM, respondents were less kind when writing about spouse employment and support, health care, American Forces Radio, services for single troops, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the Naval Exchange, and the Defense Commissary Agency.

EUCOM provided a distilled version of the survey’s results to Stars and Stripes, along with a handful of the comments. “With transformation, there are so many moving pieces, we wanted to ensure (quality of life) remained at the forefront,” Knutson wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“Our goal is to maintain support and minimize scaling back of services,” wrote Wayne Boswell, chief of EUCOM’s quality of life branch.

The survey confirmed many assumptions, such as “stairwell housing and barracks living did not generate large ‘satisfied’ statistics, as we expected,” Knutson wrote.

But some issues drew fewer complaints than expected and others generated unexpectedly negative reactions.

DODDS-Europe schools drew a satisfaction rate of 75 percent — one of the highest in the survey.

David Ruderman, a DODDS-Europe spokesman, said the school system was happy to have rated relatively high, but would like the community to respond to its own survey, available at www.dodea.edu.

Overall, health care marks also were positive: 2,871 respondents said they used military health care and 66 percent were satisfied. Complainants said clinics are understaffed and the doctors rushed.

Other low marks went to issues such as spouses of servicemembers reportedly having a hard time finding on-base employment. A total of 598 of the 628 respondents to the spouse employment section think the job market in Europe is tough because of limitations imposed by the Status of Forces Agreement, the cost of child care, and lack of U.S. citizenship.

Knutson said many complaints were not new and were being addressed.

“You hear that there is a child-care challenge overseas, and although this survey was anecdotal, we thought we would have more negative comments in that area,” Knutson wrote. “Parents are overall pretty satisfied with the care their children are getting, as well as their education.”

About one-sixth of the responses came from single people. Some 650 of them live on installations, and 443 of the respondents said they would prefer to live off post, the majority citing privacy and dorm-quality issues.

Another entity scoring high marks was the Defense Commissary Agency with almost 68 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied with their base commissary.

Most complaints about the commissaries came from smaller bases, officials said. Some of the commissaries are too small, the selection limited, prices too high, and/or the produce of poor quality, respondents said.

Some of the respondents appeared to rate the Defense Commissary Agency on services actually provided by the post exchanges, based on their comments, according to Geraldine Young, DECA spokesman.

“Big numbers of comments ... if you read them ... do not have anything to do with DECA,” Young wrote in an e-mail. “All sorts of people complained about the PX even though they were on the DECA page.”

By contrast, post exchanges run by AAFES and NEX drew 39 percent approval ratings.

In many cases, dissatisfaction corresponded with the drawdown of troops, Knutson said.

“However, most of them started their comments with ‘I know the base is closing, but …,’” she wrote, “so I think they are accepting that as you draw a site down, some services will have to be cut back.”

And although he yet to see the EUCOM survey results, American Forces Network commander Scott Malcom wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes that AFN has adjusted to the changing demands of its audience. The EUCOM survey — 61 percent were satisfied with AFN radio — results will help, he said.

AFN also is surveying its listeners, and part of that survey deals with “Music worth fighting for,” the slogan used by “The Eagle,” the network’s flagship station in Europe, Malcolm said.

“As for programming choices, we’ve recently partnered with an established music industry consultant in the States," Malcom wrote. The consultant will help AFN update its playlists weekly.

By the numbers: EUCOM survey

RESPONDENTS

Total responses: 5,595

Air Force: 44 percent

Navy: 15 percent

Army: 14 percent

General Schedule civilians: 9 percent

GS civilian family members: 9 percent

Retirees: 4 percent

Reservists: 4 percent

Marines: 42 responses

Non-appropriated fund employees: 36 responses

DODDS-EUROPE

Satisfied: 75 percent

SPOUSES OF SERVICEMEMBERS

Unemployed, want a job: 62 percent of respondents

HEALTH CARE

Satisfied: 66 percent

HOUSING

Satisfied with allowance: 59 percent

Single members who want to move off-post: 68 percent

POST EXCHANGES

Approval rate: 39 percent

Source: European Command


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