DoD, USDA Collaborate to Help Military Families Thrive

Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

The Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy is working with

Graphic: U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture logo

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture logo

the U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide military family service professionals, military families and Cooperative Extension service professionals with research and evidence-based educational resources to provide better services for military families.

What does this mean? Basically, the DoD and the USDA are leveraging each other’s expertise to supplement their own programs. In May 2010, their relationship began when a memorandum of understanding (or MOU as I’ll call it later) was signed between the organizations allocating DoD funds over the next 10 years for USDA support in evaluating and furthering DoD military family support and readiness programs.

On the flip side, the USDA gains valuable insight and information about the needs of military families that participate in their programs. The added benefit is that it also keeps taxpayer dollars in the federal ecosystem, which means that American citizens are getting a greater return on their contribution.

Photo: Barbara Thompson, Defense Deparment Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth director. (U.S. Defense Department photo/Released)

Barbara Thompson, Defense Deparment Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth
director. (U.S. Defense Department photo/Released)

Barbara Thompson, the DoD’s Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth director, made time to educate me on the ins and outs of this collaboration and why she’s championing it.

“We’re able to leverage another federal agency which is very cost-effective. Secondly, we’re leveraging their land-grant university system and that’s over 100 universities across the country. We leverage the ones [that] have the expertise that we’re looking for. It is an opportunity for us to learn about evidence-based subject matter expertise in particular areas.”

She says they seek out different programs from the universities based their own program needs. They want to know that they have solid, evidence-based research backing them up before kicking off a new initiative.

Aside from providing the DoD with renown scholarly research, the MOU also creates programs that directly benefit military families. Programs like the Project Youth Extension Service, or Project Y.E.S., offers internships to university students during which they expand Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program offerings to military kids.

Military kids and their development are a strong focus of many of these programs. Ohio State University has stepped in under the MOU to create a Virtual Lab School dedicated to online professional development for individuals working within military child care services. The website is available in the public domain which means that military and non-military child care and education programs can benefit from the courses. As an added benefit, the courses are also free.

Another program is the Military Families Learning Network which offers a network of online communities aimed at providing military family service professionals and Cooperative Extension family specialists with professional development opportunities in child care, family development, network literacy and personal finance.

Thompson also notes that the MOU is helping to create tomorrow’s leaders in military family care. “We have with Purdue University an intern program for our child development and youth programs. We get students who are majoring, are graduate students in those fields and we actually place them for up to anywhere from a semester to six months at one of our programs and they get real world experience and we’ve hired [about] 25% of them. So, you know, we have this pool of people that were highly trained coming into our system.”

It’s clear that even though the MOU is in its early stages, it’s already making a huge impact.

“A lot of these programs in these [past] three years have been developing and they’re about ready to be launched, so it’s just really exciting. It’s gone beyond what we do to help the larger DoD [as service-level commands and programs use these resources to supplement their own enterprises]. I really do think this has become a model for the federal agencies to see how you can leverage another federal agency’s resources to meet what you don’t have in your capability.”

Personally, I can’t blame Ms. Thompson for being so excited. As a former 4-Her myself, my own experiences with the USDA’s Extension service were predominantly good ones and the progress this team has made in the past three years is impressive to say the least. I can’t wait to see what the next seven will bring.

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