By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 6, 2009 - More than 300 leaders who provide support to military families will gather next week to discuss the effectiveness of the military's family support and readiness programs and hear firsthand from the people who use them. The first National Leadership Summit on Military Families is an important step in a process to improve military family support programs, said Tommy T. Thomas, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. The summit is slated for Nov. 9 and 10 at the University of Maryland.
"This is one of the steps in a strategic planning process," Thomas said. "Our long-term goal is to transform family support and readiness programs and lead to more effective and productive ways for coordination in implementation."
The summit is expected to draw participants from all services as well as active and reserve components. The Defense Department's military community and family policy office organized the summit in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland.
The summit will include the latest military family research, an overview of challenges and a series of breakout sessions. Participants will work together to explore opportunities, unique challenges, commonalities among the services and programs, and the barriers that prevent programs from working effectively, Thomas said.
"The concurrent discussion sessions will enable deeper consideration of the specific issues related to strengthening family support and readiness programs and making them more relevant to the realities facing military families today," he said. "After each breakout session, participants will re-assemble to identify key priorities from each discussion."
Additionally, leaders will hear from the programs' end users – the military families. Speakers will couple that feedback with the results from multiple family group "listening" sessions and Defense Department data, Thomas said.
While the summit has a set agenda, the topics themselves will be widely varied, Thomas said. "We have a sense of what we might hear, especially with regard to communications, functioning with the robust operational tempo and communications," he said. "But with that said, we are approaching the summit process with open minds. We look forward to this important collaboration."
Following the summit, representatives from the Defense Department and land-grant universities will review identified priorities, issues raised at the summit and feedback from family member sessions and prepare a report with recommendations on ways to strengthen the development of a Defense Department strategic plan for military family support, Thomas said. The report is slated for completion in early 2010.
Thomas said he anticipates a positive outcome from the summit. "We see great potential for a long-term, long-lasting impact," he said.
For coverage of the summit, visit the "Family Matters" blog at http://afps.dodlive.mil next week.