Air Force uses Crossroads site as family tie

Air Force uses Crossroads site as family tie

Service says its Web outreach program comforts military families and serves as a tool for retaining personnel

BY DAWN S. ONLEY | GCN STAFF

Kate Dodd, the wife of an Air Force general, has heard the complaints and seen the frustration of new spouses ready to give up.

Military life can be tough on young families. Couples are often apart for long periods, in addition to many other changes they face when one joins the armed forces. The Air Force uses a Web outreach initiative to help families cope with life in the military and, in the process, improve the service's retention of airmen.

Kate Dodd
Kate Dodd, wife of an Air Force general, says the Spouse Forum on the Crossroads Web site promotes camaraderie.
The feedback they get helps, Dodd said, because the spouses develop camaraderie. Often they make friends who are hundreds or thousands of miles away.

'It makes them feel as if they have a community,' Stefanie Myers, program manager in the Air Force Family Matters Office, said of the service's Crossroads Web site. 'It's an excellent retention tool. We've always said spouses were the key to retention.'

Crossroads, which has been in operation now for about three years at www.afcrossroads.com, features information on job openings, educational opportunities and financial advice, as well as news for youths, relocation links and parenting tips.

For the teens

Human Resources Technology Inc. of Alexandria, Va., designed the animated Web site to interest teenagers'it features a jet fighter simulation program'and help recruit them to the Air Force. But retaining personnel remains one of the site's main goals, said Capt. David Westover, an Air Force spokesman.

'I believe we were the first to have any Web site on the Internet supporting military families,' said Bob Fuller, Human Resources Technology's chief executive officer.

Husbands and wives of service members have taken note. The Spouse Network has become one of the most popular features on the site since it was rolled out last October. The Spouse Network includes a message board where spouses can sound off on issues, post questions or ask for advice. Most of Crossroads is accessible to the public, but its Spouse Forum is available only to Air Force civilian and military personnel, to protect their privacy.

Dodd, who is married to Brig. Gen. Lloyd Dodd, commander of Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, said she visits the forum twice a day to gauge the questions and to help young spouses get acclimated.

'These women come in and they're scared,' Dodd said, herself an Air Force wife of 25 years. 'I'm responsible for helping some of the young spouses along, and this is a wonderful tool.

'I just recently sat for quite awhile and answered a spouse's questions.'

Talk ain't cheap

Human Resources Technology also maintains the Web site, which gets more than 7 million visits a month. The site has the bandwidth to handle roughly 70,000 users logging on at a time, Fuller said.

The company will soon expand the site's videoconferencing capabilities, as well as its flea market feature, which includes a database of items airmen have put up for sale.

Among the software used to develop the site is Adobe Photoshop, Shockwave and Flash from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco and Microsoft Access.

Other military agencies also have Web sites aimed at providing a better quality of life for their enlisted soldiers and sailors.

The Navy has its Lifelines services network, which provides similar capabilities to Crossroads, and the Army has rolled out Army Knowledge Online, where soldiers can find news, get medical or dental information and e-mail friends.

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