For many years, base commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders have used the analogy that “If we let FRA on base, then we have to let on everyone else, too.” This has led to a broad-brushed ban on letting various groups set up information booths, stands, etc., on military installations. But in late 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel changed that when he sent policy memorandums to Defense Department leaders, offering guidelines on allowing non-profit organizations access to bases. I recently had the opportunity to ask current SecDef Ashton Carter if the Hagel initiatives are still in place for veteran service and military service organizations; Secretary Carter assured me they are.
In the memos, Hagel acknowledged that “National VSOs and MSOs are a critical component of our overall framework of care for our service members throughout all phases of their military service, but especially their transition to civilian life and veteran status.” He also emphasized that it is in DoD’s best interest to maintain strong and positive relationships with organizations like FRA.
The memos included six directives that are designed to remove barriers to base access and make policies more consistent across the Department of Defense. The memos include the following guidance*:
• Installation commanders will provide available space and associated services on military installations allowing national VSOs and MSOs to provide VA-accredited representation services to transitioning service members.
• All requests and decisions on installation access, use of space or logistical support will be made in writing.
• Installation commanders are directed to be welcoming and supportive of non-profit organizations that enhance morale and readiness of the force and are consistent with mission requirements and security constraints.
• Training and education will be provided in regular pre-command, judge advocate and public affairs officer training courses to educate personnel on the authorities and flexibilities associated with procedures and support to both accredited VSOs and MSOs, and military support nonprofit organizations.
• DOD will use consistent and standard procedures to process requests for installation access with new tools and templates provided to aid in consistent and fair assessment and adjudication of requests for access and space.
• Commanders are authorized to use official command communication channels, including Transition Assistance Program materials, to inform service troops of the availability of services and support on the installation provided by VSOs, MSOs and military-supporting nonprofits.
It is critically important to notice that the installation commanders have the discretion to refuse access to any organization; they are not required to let MSOs and VSOs on installations to recruit new members. FRA will be allowed base access to provide information, improve morale or otherwise support the installation mission. Distributing FRA Today in base waiting areas (hospital, pharmacy, barber shop, etc.) and setting up information tables are the easiest and most common examples, but don’t be afraid to propose more active forms of engagement. Host a welcome home event for service members returning from deployment; work with the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) coordinator to offer a briefing or information to separating or retiring service members; or ask how you might provide support and information to the base Retired Activities Office.
If FRA shipmates provide useful information and prove themselves and our organization to be a reliable source of accurate and relevant information, both the service personnel and the FRA will benefit.
It’s equally important to remember that it is still up to the commander to review written requests to be on his/her installation to conduct any sort of activity. It may be helpful to educate the commander about FRA’s mission and what you hope to accomplish by establishing an FRA presence on his/her base. Be sure to include some or all of the following points when submitting your written request for access.
• Supports, on a non-interfering basis, the performance of official duties of the installation and its support enterprises, such as exchanges, commissaries, etc.;
• Supports strong community service on bases in connection with local PAO and military training to better inform active, reserve, retired and veteran members and their families;
• Actively supports DoD events and their missions around the world;
• Supports social and recognition programs for DoD members and families; e.g., Sailor of the Year, Recruiter of the Year, Enlisted Persons of the Year (Coast Guard), Marine Instructors/Recruiters of the Year, at no expense to the base to enhance sustained superior performance; and
• Never charges a fee for the information and services we provide; just free resources that showcase FRA commitment to preserving and enhancing quality-of-life programs for service members and their families.
FRA is in a unique position to be able to serve as a liaison between service members and their elected officials in Washington, D.C. The National Headquarters’ staff stands ready to provide additional information and even a phone call or e-mail to those bases where you may need that extra boost to open the doors. Let’s make this work for the benefit of the troops and for the Association. * Source: DoD News, Jan. 16, 2015 Tom Snee is FRA’s National Executive Director and can be reached at NEDFRA@fra.org. Return to Table of Contents