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Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) representatives from across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum convened Oct. 18-20 to brainstorm and discuss ideas to improve the program and get more Soldiers involved. At the end of the Fort Drum BOSS Conference, roughly a dozen working groups presented proposals to a panel of command sergeants major for different life skills opportunities they would like to add to the program. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum BOSS conference reinforces how Army’s single Soldiers program benefits force

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers activities at Fort Drum have increased by 400 percent in the past two years, and visits to the BOSS Center rose 300 percent.

But it wouldn’t be BOSS if they weren’t thinking about ways to be better.

BOSS representatives from across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum convened Oct. 18-20 to brainstorm and share ideas that would enhance the program and get more Soldiers involved.

“The purpose of this conference is to present and exchange information; discuss, develop and present strategies on issues affecting single Soldiers; and agree on the roles and responsibilities of BOSS representatives,” said Pauline Beck, BOSS program administrator.

Fort Drum BOSS council members reviewed the three pillars of BOSS – recreation and leisure, community service, and quality of life.

Three Pillars of BOSS

Cpl. Chris Jones, Fort Drum BOSS president, said that the greatest misconception about BOSS is that all they provide is recreational and leisure activities.

Admittedly, BOSS has a full calendar of recreational events – with athletic and gaming tournaments, hiking trips and monthly fun runs. However, Jones said that the program has expanded its focus to include volunteerism, quality of life, and life skills development.

“We want everyone to understand that we are not just the fun-and-games program,” he said. “We are also the program that offers certifications and where you can learn new things. If you have Army issues, or personal issues, you can talk to us.”

Spc. Jonathan Clare, BOSS representative for 10th Mountain Division Artillery, spoke about how volunteering is the difference between being in a community and being part of a community.

“We can reach out to our community and provide a service, whether that is volunteering at a food pantry or the SPCA, reading to children or visiting the elderly (at a health care facility),” he said. “Soldiers may also develop professional networks, learn new skills or simply become exposed to their greater geographical area while volunteering.”

He said the BOSS pillar of community service is important to Soldiers’ overall wellbeing because it helps foster a sense of identity and accomplishment.

During the conference, Jones led a discussion on quality of life issues – the third BOSS pillar – which includes all issues that Soldiers can directly or indirectly influence to enhance their morale, living environment or personal growth and development.

“We spent a lot of time sharing different quality of life issues and how we can positively influence change,” he said. “Immediately when people think about quality of life, the first thing they come up with is issues in the barracks. That is a legitimate issue, but the pillar includes any issue that hinders your personal quality of life, morale or unit cohesion.”

Of the three pillars, quality of life is the one in which Jones invests most of his time on the BOSS council.

“I feel this is the foundation of all the pillars, because if your quality of life is poor it affects everything else,” he said. “If a personal issue is bothering you, you are not going to go to a recreational event and fully enjoy it. If a Soldier has an issue that affects their quality of life, I want to help.”

That commitment to support one another is what Bill Van Orman, Fort Drum’s Suicide Prevention Program manager, asked from all BOSS representatives at the conference.

“I might be the program manager for suicide prevention, but you guys are the real suicide prevention advocates for Fort Drum,” he said. “This is where true suicide prevention can happen.”

Van Orman said that the top risk factors for suicides among Soldiers are relationship issues, work stress and substance abuse.

“And the No. 1 protective factor against suicide is connectedness,” he said.

Van Orman said that BOSS makes it easier to develop a support system, camaraderie and social relationships.

“Connecting with BOSS programs gives Soldiers someplace to go, something to do and people to be with,” he said. “Participation in group activities is pretty much everything that you do, and that is what we need. Not only are those group activities and social relationships protective factors against suicide, it also makes everyone sensors for what is going on. That makes you more capable of intervening and possibly saving another Soldier’s life.”

BOSS for everyone

BOSS is often referred to as “the voice of the single Soldier,” but members tend to think bigger.

“When you think of everything that BOSS represents and the type of events and activities we do, we support the single Soldiers but we also do things that reach the entire community,” Jones said.

There are roughly 8,000 single Soldiers assigned to Fort Drum, but those are not the only ones who can benefit from the BOSS program. Beck said that geo-bachelors – Soldiers with spouses and family members temporarily living out of state or country – and single parents are also welcome.

“You don’t have to live in the barracks to be a part of BOSS,” she said. “Pretty much anyone can come into the BOSS Center and use the facility. We are not going to turn people away.”

Jones mentioned a squad that had visited the BOSS Center as a team-building activity.

“The squad leader, team leaders and all their Soldiers were there playing ‘Mortal Kombat,’ talking and just getting to know each other,” he said. “I know that when they left, there was a smile on everyone’s faces. It was great for morale and for team cohesion. I want to see more of that.”

BOSS-sponsored events are open to the community – such as the BOSS Invades Atkins functional fitness challenge or the Mountain Mudder. Only the life skills events are exclusive to single Soldiers, because the funding is designated for this demographic.

Beck said that it is important for BOSS representatives to engage with their chain of command to explain the full spectrum of programs and, ultimately, garner more participation in their units.

“Getting that command support is a big issue,” she said. “When a lot of those leaders were in your spot, either BOSS did not exist or had only offered recreation or leisure activities. We are so much more than that now.”

Jones said that BOSS representatives should keep their chain of command informed of the spectrum of BOSS activities so they don’t perceive a trip to the BOSS Center as a way to slack off.

“They might not know that the Soldier is taking a financial class or going to learn how to change the oil in their car. Not only that, but we pay for Soldiers to learn that.”

During the conference, representatives got a behind-the-scenes perspective about event planning and execution at the BOSS Blitz 5K, with more than 200 participating in the morning run.

“It was great that they could see how all of our hard work pays off,” Jones said. “We wanted them to also see that we have fun at our jobs. At the end of the day, everyone who works at the BOSS Center volunteers to do so. We are very proud of what we do, and we have a genuinely deep care for the program.”

Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, took note of the diversity among the men and women at the conference.

“It’s not based just on gender or skin color, but the fact that every unit in the division is represented here,” he said. “That is diversity in terms of ideas and what you all can bring to the table. And that’s what we need.”

Beagle asked the representatives to take a hard look at quality of life issues affecting Soldiers across the division and to bring those to senior command.

“Quality of life has to be right at all levels,” he said. “If we can’t get that right, then everything else is not going to be right. So we want to leverage all of this diversity in the room to get solutions, so we can fix problems.”

Beagle was reminded of a quote from Gen. Colin Powell, who said “The day the Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them.”

“We will read your ideas and solutions, we will review them, and we will work with the garrison command team on them,” he said. “We will work together to solve problems.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Mario O. Terenas, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum senior enlisted leader, encouraged innovative thinking among the working groups.

“Don’t settle for how things have always been done,” he said. “I need you to get innovated and find those different and better ways of doing things. Inside this room is a hundred good ideas – share them.”

The conference concluded with more than a dozen working groups presenting action plans for new life skills opportunities to a panel of command sergeants major.

Proposals ranged from self-defense and wilderness survival training to driving proficiency and a “Cook like a BOSS’ class taught by a professional chef.

“We heard a lot of great proposals,” Beck said. “Some of them were really creative, and everyone worked hard on them. I think every single one of them has potential to become a life skill for the BOSS program.”

Sgt. Henry Macaraeg became the BOSS representative for C Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, about a month ago.

“I’m all about programs where Soldiers are helping Soldiers,” he said. “I’ve been in the Army for about six years now, so I’m pretty familiar with the BOSS program.”

Even before he became involved in the program, Macaraeg said that his unit was good at announcing BOSS activities to Soldiers. He said he will continue to actively promote BOSS whatever way he can.

“I’m going to have weekly sit-downs with my commander to brief him on what the BOSS program is doing and how to implement them,” he said. “I’ll also talk with Soldiers and see if there’s anything they would like to see come out of the BOSS program.”

It has been a few years since the Fort Drum BOSS council has organized a conference, and Macaraeg said that he was grateful for the chance to attend.

“What meant the most to me over the past three days was the chance to network with other BOSS representatives,” Macaraeg said. “You need to be able to meet people face-to-face, shake their hands and get to know the colleagues who you are working with. That way you can collaborate and come to a consensus on a lot of the decisions that need to be made.”

To learn more about the BOSS program, call (315) 772-7807, visit https://drum.armymwr.com/programs/boss or follow them at www.facebook.com/bossfortdrum. The BOSS Center is located in Bldg. 10650 on 5th Armored Division Drive.