With the number and length of deployments
increasing, care for Soldiers and Army
families is all the more important. If the Army hopes to maintain its readiness and capabilities, it must seek ways to build resilience in Soldiers and their families. The Prosperity Plan is an approach to Soldier and family care that features individual goal setting, primary leadership relationships, and strong command support and emphasis. The 21st Combat Support Hospital (21st CSH) at Fort Hood, Texas, used the Prosperity Plan during and after deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 06–08. I want to encourage Army leaders to consider implementing Soldier and family care programs in their own organizations.
Goal Setting as an Approach to Care
The Prosperity Plan is a simple questionnaire that asks Soldiers and family members to set goals for themselves during and after deployment. The plan is built on the conviction that when Soldiers and their families are growing spiritually and mentally, they are stronger and will be more resilient in the face of the challenges of Army life and combat operations. Stronger and more resilient Soldiers and families enhance a unit’s ability to function and increase Army readiness. By capturing their goals in a simple format, Soldiers and families can begin to make plans and gather the resources they need to accomplish their goals.
Separation during deployment can be very damaging to primary relationships. Soldiers and families may accept survival of their relationships as their goal for deployment. Unfortunately, mere survival often produces stagnation and even regression in primary relationships, and often those relationships eventually break down. A survival mindset may actually cause relationship failure.
Complex goals, like making a marriage better, seem daunting, but the most difficult step is to set the goal. From there, Soldiers and family members are offered resources and encouragement to make and implement plans that can help their marriages grow during deployments, including relationship-enhancement classes. Soldiers and families are also encouraged to be creative in finding ideas and tools to keep their marriages alive, even while separated.
The plan itself is structured around four areas: personal, professional, family, and spiritual or religious. People who are growing in all areas of their lives will be stronger because they are well-rounded. Army leadership training aims at supporting both the professional and personal growth of Soldiers. The Army recognizes that leaders need to achieve balance and grow in all facets of life.
The Prosperity Plan directs Soldiers to think long term. Rather than focusing only on preparing for the deployment, the Prosperity Plan asks Soldiers to prepare for their next permanent change of station. By challenging Soldiers and families to set longer-term goals, the Prosperity Plan establishes growth as a lifestyle.
For growth to be truly meaningful, it must represent the concerns and needs of the individual. The Prosperity Plan offers Soldiers and families an opportunity to set goals that are personally meaningful to them so they are more likely to devote the energy needed for long-term comprehensive growth.
Primary Leader Relationships
Army Regulation 600–20, Army Command Policy, directs commanders to establish Soldier care programs within their organizations. While the Prosperity Plan itself empowers Soldiers to care for themselves, organizational support and resources are necessary to ensure its implementation. Coaching and counseling relationships already exist in the Army. Each Soldier has a rater responsible for coaching and counseling them on their job performance. These primary leader relationships form the main effort for organizational implementation of the Prosperity Plan.
The commander of the 21st CSH, Colonel Jeffery Clark, directed that every Soldier in the task force complete the Prosperity Plan questionnaire. Each primary leader was responsible for using the Prosperity Plan as a part of their coaching and counseling relationships. Leaders were responsible for initiating the process and then providing assistance as the Soldiers implemented their plans.
While family members were not expected to be accountable to the chain of command, they were offered help from the chaplains, the family readiness group, and other agencies. Soldiers and family members also were encouraged to share their personal goals with each other.
Implementation of the Prosperity Plan reflects a structurally unique approach to Soldier and family care. Many Army training efforts are top-down, with standardized content selected at the installation or division level. Predeployment and other Soldier care classes are often offered in large-group settings by subject-matter experts. Information presented in large groups often lacks individualized application and offers little opportunity for personalized coaching. For this reason, large-group deployment classes are often regarded by Soldiers as “check-the-block” exercises. The Prosperity Plan may include large-group training events, but those training events should be tailored directly to support the main effort for Soldier care: each Soldier’s primary leader relationship.
Primary leader relationships are preferable as a means to achieve the goals of the Prosperity Plan. Primary leaders should know the unique strengths, needs, and situations of the Soldiers they rate so they can help their subordinates find goals that are meaningful and perhaps even inspirational.
|Each 21st Combat Support Hospital Soldier began implementing the Prosperity Plan by completing this questionnaire.
Command Support and Emphasis
Without a commitment on the part of the organization, the Prosperity Plan’s value will diminish. Colonel Clark brought a threefold commitment to the organization by stating, “The 21st CSH will accomplish the mission, take care of Soldiers, and take care of our Families.” This motto expresses the hospital leaders’ commitment to Soldier and family care.
Late in the summer of 2005, the 21st CSH began preparing for deployment in support of OIF 06–08. The mission called for the 21st CSH to provide level III and level IV medical care for Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca. One of the tasks on the III Corps mission-essential task list (METL) was “Care for Soldiers.” By establishing Soldier care as one of his essential tasks, the III Corps commander gave Soldier care efforts command emphasis and resources. Colonel Clark followed the III Corps commander’s example and added “Provide for Soldier and family wellbeing” to the 21st CSH METL.
The emphasis on well-being reflects a conviction that healthy Soldiers and families are better able to accomplish missions, are more resilient, and will be better prepared for the future. Well-being should not be merely a matter of extracting the best effort from Soldiers to accomplish a particular mission; it must also reflect a commitment to prepare Soldiers and families for the future.
The Prosperity Plan establishes a structure for Soldier and family care by defining lanes of responsibility. It provides leaders with a common language and set of expectations and allows Soldiers to define wellness for themselves. The Prosperity Plan also provides commanders with a way to document their Soldier and family care efforts.
Staffs can create several systems to help Soldiers and family members access assistance and resources. In the 21st CSH, the religious support team and the command financial specialist created a comprehensive Prosperity Resource Guide, which provided information on over 80 helping agencies in the Fort Hood area. Representatives from agencies like the Fort Hood Education Center also came to talk with Soldiers and family members about resources available to them. The Religious Support Team provided retreats, classes, and individual counseling to help Soldiers and family members develop their Prosperity Plans.
Results of the Prosperity Plan
The success of the 21st CSH’s Prosperity Plan was hard to measure because it involved the individual interests of over 375 Soldiers and many of their family members. Most Soldiers established long-term goals, which cannot be completely accomplished right after a deployment. Many Soldiers also set goals for their spiritual lives and relationships, which are very difficult to measure in a consistent way.
A set of metrics was developed to assess, at least at some level, the success or failure of the program. Each company tracked the number of miles run and the number of personal development classes attended, such as smoking cessation. They also tracked the number of correspondence and college credit hours completed, continuing education credits completed by medical professionals, and religious services or observances that Soldiers attended. Finally, they tracked the number of Soldiers contacting home at least once a week and the number of Soldiers saving money or reducing their debt.
The Prosperity Plan appeared to contribute successfully to the deployment and to the well-being of many Soldiers and families. Soldiers from the 21st CSH ran over 100,000 combined miles and completed over 1,000 college credit hours and over 40,000 correspondence hours. Throughout the deployment, 90 percent of Soldiers reported either saving money or reducing their debt. Ninety-five percent of Soldiers reported maintaining weekly contact with their families.
Several couples found ways to invigorate their marriages while deployed. One leader, whose marriage had been troubled, used creativity to enjoy his weekly web-cam dates with his spouse. For their first date, he pretended to take her to a fancy dinner by cutting out pictures of their favorite meals and dressing up in a “tuxedo” that was penned on a tan t-shirt. His creativity and sense of humor increased their mutual affection and trust, and he provided inspiration for others working on their own relationships.
We ask Soldiers and their families to make tremendous sacrifices. Army leaders have a responsibility to make every effort to establish conditions that support the well-being of those who give so much in the service of their Nation. Perhaps the Prosperity Plan will inspire other Army leaders to implement Soldier and family care programs in their areas of responsibility.