Families of GIs staying longer in Iraq can go online to get answers and make complaints
Stars and Stripes May 16, 2004
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Army leaders in Europe have unveiled a Web site designed to catalog concerns and questions raised by the spouses and family members of soldiers extended beyond their 12-month tours in Iraq.
Much more than just a list of gripes, though, the Web site is the fulfillment of a promise made by Gen. B.B. Bell — the top commander of Army forces in Europe — to keep his staff honest on finding fixes to those problems.
“I want you to know that all the leaders here in Europe will work tirelessly on your behalf to meet your needs,” Bell wrote in a recent message to family members. “We will not let you down.”
The Web site, which can be reached directly from the U.S. Army Europe home page found at: www.hqusareur.army.mil, is broken down into categories ranging from personnel and finance issues to medical and school issues.
“This is a central place for people to go to,” said Brig. Gen. Russell Frutiger, Bell’s top personnel officer.
“We’re really proud of this. We’ve loaded [the site] with everything we’ve gotten questions on. This is a good-news story. It’s about taking care of soldiers.”
The Web site opens with a heart-tugging slide show accompanied by an original song written and performed by USAREUR staff officer Capt. Peter Perzel and his wife, Amanda.
Most sections on the site are broken down in a frequently-asked-questions format. One example:
“Issue: Are there enough chaplains to provide counseling for families and soldiers?
“Response: Our chaplains are working hard to meet all the needs. Family Life Chaplains will soon be augmented by additional social work counselors to plus up their staffs. They should be available in the communities in mid-May.”
While covering hundreds of specific issues, the Web site does not address some regularly raised complaints.
The “medical” section, for example, so far ignores the oft-repeated complaint that there are not enough medical care providers at Army clinics in the 1st Armored Division area.
In fact, Bell fielded several specific complaints on that front during a recent tour of the division’s communities and promised family members more doctors and health care providers would be found.
Another issue not addressed: Many family members have complained that Army Emergency Relief is overly bureaucratic in providing help and is not nearly as comprehensive as the Air Force Aid Society.
Bell told family support group leaders during his recent meetings in 1st AD communities that he wants the program overhauled so soldiers enjoy the same benefits as airmen.
Frutiger, who sits on the AER board, promised that’s being addressed.
“They’re being a bit bureaucratic,” said Frutiger, “but I’m working on it.”
While the AER complaint is missing from the new Web site, that’s not to say the site ignores issues where fixes are not final or are still a work in progress.
One controversial request by 1st AD family members is to upgrade their priority status from Category Three to Category Two for space-available military flights back to the United States and allow them to fly without their soldiers.
That would put them in a “hardship duty” status below only troops traveling on emergency leave and give them priority for seats above servicemembers traveling on regular leave.
Bell supports the idea — a formal request with his signature has been forwarded to the Pentagon, said Frutiger — and the Web site makes it clear that, if denied, it won’t be for lack of his effort.