NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As military families struggle with higher costs for food, gas, housing and more, there has been high-level discussion about a one-time payment to help troops in lower pay grades, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.
“Just this past week, there’s been some engagement within [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] to look at some of our families, particularly those at the lower end of the pay scale,” he said, with a “potential one-time outlay of money to help support those families to really get them back on track.”
Decisions about these DoD-wide solutions are made at the DoD level.
Officials are listening to airmen and their families about these issues, Brown said, and the Air Force and other service officials have been working with defense officials on a variety of economic issues. One is to get a better sense of how the housing market has changed, and to have a “more adaptable system” in determining rates for Basic Allowance for Housing, Brown said, speaking during a keynote session with senior Air Force and Space Force leaders and their spouses before a packed audience at the Air & Space Forces Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference Wednesday.
BAH is currently evaluated and set once a year, based on a variety of housing factors in local communities, and many feel that the system hasn’t been flexible enough to address sharp increases in housing costs, especially over the past several years.
There were some temporary increases in BAH in the fall of 2021 to help struggling service members in 56 areas of the country before new rates went into effect in January. There were also pay increases and increases in Basic Allowance for Subsistence, but “that doesn’t do it all,” Brown said. Officials are also looking at cuts in Cost of Living Allowances that were implemented about a year ago, he said, and trying to slow down the pace of those cuts.
While Brown talked about these discussions at the DoD level, senior spouses reminded service members and their families about a variety of resources in place that can help them with a variety of needs. Sharene Brown urged families to check out the resources of their local Military & Family Readiness Center. The name was changed in July from Airman & Family Readiness centers.
She also urged families to reach out to key spouses, because they will know how to find programs that can help with their specific needs. Among the many other resources she noted were the school liaison officers, who can help families with questions and issues related to the education of their children on and off base.
“There are many challenges, but there’s help for you,” said Mollie Raymond, wife of Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. Every time they moved, she said, she went to the family readiness center, to find out about their resources through their subject matter experts, and to help others know about these resources.
Sharene Brown noted that a number of efforts are under way to address the need for child care, including the Air Force pilot program using the Kinderspot app. At nine locations, Defense Department families who aren’t using their child care spot at the child development center for a week or a few days can essentially transfer their spot to another DoD family. They’re hoping to expand it to 15 locations, but are working to make sure the information is secure, she said.
A DoD pilot program to provide fee assistance for in-home child care, such as nannies, at five locations is another effort to respond to the need, she said.
Part of the problem with the lack of child care capacity in some areas is the staffing shortage, Gen. Brown said. Wages have been increased across the board to help address the problem.
Gen. Raymond noted that one child care challenge in the Space Force community is the need for child care for Guardians in the 24/7 work environment.
‘Take care of your family’
Raymond, who is nearing retirement, says one thing he wishes he had known as a younger officer is that he could have communicated his family needs to his leadership. “We did five one-year moves. I probably didn’t have to do that,” he said. “There are ways we can help take care of your family. Sometimes we think it might be against our nature of service, and it’s not.
“You’re allowed to care about your family,” he said, to a roomful of applause. There will be times when the service really needs that service member to take on that particular assignment, he said, “but take care of your family.”
All the senior leaders and their spouses talked about the importance of connections — with each other, with others in the unit, with the community. Mollie Raymond recalled attending a basic military training graduation this summer, with the first graduating flight of Guardians. She and her husband were having their pictures taken with a young new Guardian and her family.
After the picture, Mollie Raymond said, “Her little brother, probably about 10 … looked up at Jay and said, ‘Please take care of my sister.’
“Think of your Guardians, your airmen that you work with as your sisters and brothers. And you can think of me and Jay as your grandma and your grandpa,” she said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.