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The Military FAMILY Caucus – or was it?

December 5, 2011

Military Family Caucus?  The meeting was of the Congressional Military Family Caucus.  Well, the Congressional part was taken care of, with Congresspeople attending  and many staffers milling about.  Military – well that was taken care of, with enough gold braid and rank to make anyone nervous.  A LOT of brass.    DoD staff were there en masse – rows of them.   Family – well, there were representatives of many groups, Blue Star Families, MOAA, National Military Family Association … but very few “independent”  or freestanding family members.  Of course, that could be because the announcement of the Caucus came very close to the actual date of the conference.

As we sat in the auditorium, I realized this was not going to be anything like the last one.  This event was set up as a presentation – not a discussion. We listened to speeches, from those of the Congress people who are the co-chairs, telling us they want to hear from us; from  Sgts Major of Guard/Reserve/AF/Army, telling us to make sure we tell them what we think; … and then Generals, telling us they are open to listening to us.  For over 2 hours, we listened to speeches.  The open mike period finally arrived – and 2 or three personal stories took everyone’s breath away and most of the time was spent with each person on the dais telling us how terrible it all was that this person was treated in this way and how they should have contacted this group/this person.  Once again, it took a person coming to DC and standing up at a conference to get their particular  problem looked at.  It shouldn’t take that, these problems are not completely out of the ordinary,  they needed someone in that vaunted chain of command to LOOK, LISTEN AND WORK ON IT!!

Other questions were about veteran employment, veteran health care.  Don’t get me wrong, I know how crucial they are.  But this was the Family Caucus!  Even some uniformed service members I talked to were wondering why there was so much discussion of service member issues, and veteran issues.  Where were the discussions about family issues?

The trek to the break out groups was long, from the Capitol Auditorium through the tunnels to the Cannon Office Building – that’s about 10 minutes for us.  How long the wounded warriors took?  Good question.  A very nice young staffer finally brought some water bottles to everyone after we begged for it. (no food, no drink in the auditorium).  As we crammed ourselves into the tiny conference room, seats were filling up rapidly.  A quick intro by the congressman chairing the group ( telling us again how much they want to hear from US), intro of the subject matter experts and a decent discussion started.  Of course, we were limited on time, and everyone agreed that we wanted to have a few more hours to actually talk, to bring out ideas, to get some responses.

I talked to attendees who were in other breakout sessions and the fireworks were definitely in the Veterans group – during which a person asking a question and telling them how it REALLY WAS (she’s an expert, believe me)  was told to sit down and shut up by a congresswoman because she dared to tell them what was truly happening in the WTUs.  We all noticed that the DoD subject matter experts kept bringing up programs that 1)no one ever heard of, 2) that we all knew didn’t work, 3) were in the planning stages.  None of us felt that anyone really WAS listening to our concerns.

In my group, the back two rows were taken up by DoD Staff who worked in the Office of the Under Secretary.  I’m hoping they were taking notes, not only jumping up and defensively arguing with the military family members.  We were doing what we were told we were there for – to TELL THEM what is going on.  Their job was to sit down, shut up and LISTEN.  Yes, afterwards get the person’s  information and get with them for their particular issue, but don’t argue with them as they talk to you.  Their story is what it is!  They have these issues, the program failed here, or didn’t work there… don’t argue with them about how it should  have worked.

That’s the problem.  This turned into another example of SSDD – Same Stuff, Different Day.  Many questioned why there had been so little prior notice of this meeting to military families.  I knew a few people who would have attended, if they had known of the date and time, but who live out of state.  The audience in attendance was either invited by the Congressmen, or from groups that had received notification of the event.  One commenter thought this was very carefully choreographed, that it was a great photo op, but not much more.

That’s sad.  When this Caucus started, we all hoped it was a way for our concerns to be heard, for us (the military families) to have our voice, not only as adjuncts to our service members, but as a discrete group with our own problems and solutions.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2011 12:29 pm

    Not surprising. That’s all these events have been for the last several years from what I’ve seen. Lots and lots of rhetoric, and very little action that we, the actual families they’re supposedly serving have seen. Good thing I wasn’t the one being told to sit down and shut up because I would’ve fired it right back to that congresswoman. Our stories are what we live. If you don’t serve, you don’t know. Sometimes even if you don’t use a particular service offered, you don’t know. I have so much more I want to say, but I’m so beyond angry and frustrated. I knew when I saw this even tweeted it would be SSDD, and my second “S” doesn’t stand for “stuff.” So disappointed. I would have liked to have been proven wrong for once.

  2. December 5, 2011 3:16 pm

    I was at the very first of these, as was Karen Jowers, a reporter for Army Times. She asked me if my trip from Oregon to attend was worth it:

    Army wife Stacy Bannerman said she used up all her frequent flier miles flying from Oregon and spent an additional $600 to attend the summit.

    “I’ll know if it’s worth my trip in six months,” she said. “That’s enough time for this caucus to begin to digest all of this, and take action.”

    Link to full article here:

    http://www.stacybannerman.com/media-archives.shtml#seventhings

    Wouldn’t it be interesting for a little birdie to plant a seed asking Jowers to do an article report card, measuring the caucus’s progress toward the recommendations made over a year and a half ago, since they’re all laid out in black-and-white? What’s that you say, accountability? Ahahahahhahhahahahahhaha.

    Karen Jower’s email is: kjowers@atpco.com

  3. December 5, 2011 10:48 pm

    Shocking! I’m shocked. Truly shocked. Knocked on my ass shocked. Incredibly shocked.

    No, really. I am. See? This is me. Shocked.

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