BISMARCK, N.D. – A North Dakota National Guard volunteer was among 96 delegates, and one of only seven National Guard representatives, selected to attend the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) World Wide Conference.
AFAP is the Army’s grassroots process to identify and elevate the most significant quality of life issues impacting Active and Reserve Component Soldiers, retirees, DA Civilians and Families to senior leaders for action. Kathy Benson, of Wolford, N.D., spent five days last month at the conference in Alexandria, Va., working on issues relevant to the Army Community: Soldiers, Families, retirees, Department of the Army civilians and employers.
“We value Kathy’s hard work and devotion to our Soldiers, Airmen and their Families,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general for the North Dakota National Guard. “Our organization is strengthened because of the dedication and efforts of volunteers like her.”
This was Benson’s fifth year of participating in the AFAP conference, and according to her, the experience is invaluable. At this year’s conference, Benson and other delegates reviewed 82 issues of interest to the Army Community.
“Kathy has attended this conference in the past and is a great representative to serve on these decision-making work groups,” said Rob Keller, Family Program Office director for the North Dakota National Guard. “She represents North Dakota as well as the entire National Guard on issues relevant and important to the families of National Guard members.”
“I try to look at each issue and evaluate how it can benefit the Guard whether during mobilization if it is an Active Duty issue or non-deployed/steady state while the Soldier and Family is living in their community and real life.”
Each of eight subject-specific workgroups sent two issues forward. Benson’s workgroup managed to process three focus areas into the two issues elevated. For Benson, whose group focused on Soldier Support Ares, the issues chosen to advance included “Reserve Component Inactive Duty for Training Travel and Transportation Allowances” and the second was “Reduced Eligibility Age for Retirement of Reserve Component Soldiers Mobilized in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.” Both issues are Guard related and will also impact all Reserve components, to include Air, Navy and Marines.
“With our state getting ‘smaller’ in numbers, but the geography remaining sizable, more Reservists are having to travel further to attend drills, as armories close or due to organization restructuring,” she said.
The next step for all sixteen issues that advanced will be review at the General Officers Steering Committee (GOSC) meeting this summer. While Army focused, many of these issues impacted all branches of service. On the last day, following each group’s report out of their prioritized issues to the generals, the entire group of delegates voted on the top five. All sixteen go forward, and the vote is so that the GOSC knows what the group felt were the most important emphasis areas.
Those five were:
· Provide a monthly stipend to ill/injured Soldiers for non-medical caregivers
· Fund service dogs for wounded warriors
· Provide for behavioral health services shortages by increasing the number of readily available behavioral health providers and services and the use of alternative methods of delivery such as tele-medicine
· Authorize Family Readiness Groups to fundraise in public places external to National Guard Armories, Reserve Centers, and military installations
· Authorize Reserve component Soldiers enrollment in the Exceptional Family Members Program
“It was a very challenging week, but the results are enormous - a truly rewarding sense of accomplishment and to be able to part of it was truly an honor,” Benson said.
Benson’s husband, Master Sgt. Dean Benson, serves in the North Dakota Army National Guard. She became involved with volunteering for the Guard Family Programs in 1986. Benson has been the co-chairperson for the Cando-based and Engineer Brigade Family Readiness Groups, leader of the Joint Force Headquarters Family Readiness Group, served on the Family Executive Committee and currently is a volunteer at large. She also remains active in military organizations, belonging to the York post of the American Legion Auxiliary and the VFW Auxiliary in Devils Lake.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 Soldiers and nearly 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, about 850 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas. With a total force of about 4,400 Soldiers and Airmen, sufficient forces remain in the state for emergency response and homeland defense.