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College of Human Ecology

Survey: Families important to Fort Riley

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Manhattan Mercury, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, Reprinted by permission


By Sarah Nightingale

When Fort Riley officials and K-State researchers teamed up to study why some spouses do not transfer to Fort Riley with their soldiers, they hoped to learn how the post and community could attract more families to relocate here.

While the just-released results of the 2008 study highlight some areas for improvement, they also provide a testimony to the strength of military relationships.

More than 50 percent of those taking the survey said the primary reason they relocated to Fort Riley as a family was "to remain together." At the same time, the top reason spouses did not accompany their soldier here had less to do with the area and more to do with an upcoming or lengthy deployment.

According to Briana Nelson Goff, associate professor of family studies and human services, the study was initiated because fewer military families were accompanying their spouse to post than was expected.

"There was an expectation that more than 80 percent of families would relocate," she said. "In reality, and depending on the unit, that number was often lower."

Leaders want soldiers to bring families

Paul Fisher, garrison public affairs officer at Fort Riley, said the number was troubling to then Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, the post's commander at the time, who envisioned Fort Riley being "the installation of choice for soldiers and their families."

"The garrison staff had anecdotal evidence about what makes an installation great, but they needed empirical evidence," Fisher said of the programs and marketing initiatives officials believed could be revised to entice family members to the area.

"We wanted to validate our assumptions and improve those areas so Fort Riley would become a destination of choice," he said.

More than 1,400 soldiers and family members in stable relationships took the online survey designed by Nelson Goff and colleague Jared Anderson between May and June 2008. Soldiers or spouses who had transitioned to the area as a family made up almost 85 percent of the sample.

Soldiers who had come here without family members made up about 11 percent, and spouses who had remained elsewhere while their soldier transitioned here made up about five percent.

Soldiers want togetherness, too

Of those soldiers and families who moved to the area together, Nelson Goff said the No. 1 reason cited for that decision was "wanting to remain together as a family."

"I would just want to say that if you're not where your husband is it's a lot harder to keep your marriage and your family intact," reported one participant.

"Over half of the participants said that, and it was a pleasant a surprise," Nelson Goff said, adding "perhaps it shouldn¹t have been."

The No. 2 reason family members cited for coming here was the availability and quality of housing. "Housing was a factor for both those that accompanied their soldier and those that did not," Nelson Goff said. "I think that depended on where they were coming from."

According to Nelson Goff, other factors that played a role in the decision to transition here were the lack of an upcoming deployment, availability of employment for their spouse and educational opportunities.

Deployment, housing cited

In terms of those family members who did not come here, Nelson Goff said over half cited "deployment" as the reason, a factor that Fisher said was fairly typical for Army families. "If a soldier assigned here was going to deploy after four or six months, the family probably won't come right away," he said.

Housing was also an issue, Nelson Goff said.

"The wait for on-post housing came up a lot," she said, adding that the lack of affordable rental housing off-post was a major deterrent. Another important finding, she said, was the shift from the traditional military family with a male soldier and a stay-at-home spouse to female soldiers or female spouses with their own career paths. "It was striking how often we heard ‘my spouse has an established career and it would be difficult for them to make that transition'," she said. Salary level and quality of employment here also came up as a negative in the decision to move.

Health care, child care disappointing

In terms of on-post programs, health care and child care were raised by some participants as areas of dissatisfaction. "Getting an appointment is a huge problem," noted one participant about Irwin Army Community Hospital.

Nelson Goff said she and Anderson have been asked to brief several departments on the post. "They have used the study to revise and initiate programs, such as improving job placement and career services," she said. "They have indicated they'd like us to do a follow-up."

Fisher said the survey contributed to a series of community partnerships conferences initiated by Durbin and designed to engage the community in making the area more attractive to military families. "Many of the factors identified, such as housing and employment are areas of interest for all of Fort Riley's seven surrounding counties," Fisher said.

Nelson Goff agreed that the study highlighted the importance of a strong Fort-Riley-community relationship. "We are all impacted by Fort Riley," she said. "We should do as much as much as we can as a community to support them, even if it is just reaching out to our neighbors one-on-one."

"We owe it to the soldiers to make this an outstanding community."

This article was posted on Friday, February 13, 2009, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.