STUTTGART, Germany — In 2006, a sergeant serving as a delegate at the U.S. European Command Quality of Life Conference pointed out a simple inequity.

Single soldiers, the sergeant noted, were getting short-changed on their cost-of-living allowances, or COLA.

In the 1970s — when the cash allowances were devised — single soldiers weren’t allowed to have appliances and other electronics in their rooms, so they weren’t shopping for those items off base, and thus weren’t receiving money to help pay for them.

Electronics are now allowed in barracks rooms, but as of 2006 soldiers still were not receiving allowances that reflected their buying habits. Because the sergeant raised the issue, the allowance rule is being changed, giving single soldiers a little more money starting in October 2009.

OK, so changes in bureaucracies don’t happen at light speed. But they can happen when delegates bring them up, which is the hope for next week when the yearly conference takes place in Garmisch, Germany.

“We, as a team, take everything back with us (from the conference),” said Wayne Boswell, EUCOM’s quality-of-life chief. “Then we come up with solutions.

“One person in a focus group at our conference changed a whole policy for the Department of Defense.”

More flexible child care, anti-gang education, and e-mail snags plaguing reservists are among 17 issues that have been resolved in recent years after being brought up at the conferences.

About 65 delegates from EUCOM’s 93-nation area of responsibility have been assigned to the conference. They include servicemembers, spouses, civilians and teens.

“We try to get a true grass-roots representation,” Boswell said.

It’s their job to bring up issues such as the unfair COLA.

The delegates will be divided into five groups and hash over issues in each area: two community life groups, along with groups on health care, entitlements and deployments. Experts in each area would be placed in the groups to provide background.

Sometimes programs already exist that could address problems that come up. Getting the military’s mini-bureaucracies to work together is also one of the goals.

“Where are the programs out there, and how do you make them more pertinent and visible to the people overseas?” said Paul Jerome, another EUCOM quality-of-life official.

The yearly conferences started in 1996 to address the military’s massive drawdown in Europe in the early- to mid-1990s. The goal, Jerome said, was to see if the correct assets were in place to support the remaining troops and families.

After a hiatus from 2001 to 2003, the conferences began again in 2004. The effect of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan has since become one of the key drivers of recent conference topics.

“There is an issue that is discussed in each of the focus groups that is deployment-related,” Boswell said.

Turning talk into action

Issues raised in recent U.S. European Command Quality of Life Conferences that have been addressed (not all resolved):

Expanded youth health programsChild care flexibility, funding, staffing and food reimbursementRemote-site child care servicesTime-in-grade restrictions for general-service promotionsCareer-status issues for family membersAnti-gang educationFunding transportation for college studentsShared substance-abuse programsCost-of-living allowances for single soldiersTechnology restrictions for reservistsSupport, intervention and counseling for children of deployed troopsDeployment-support activities for childrenRestrictions to family-readiness fundsSource: U.S. European Command

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