U.S. Army MWR
History of Army Community Service

From the pioneer days to the all-volunteer Army of today, the concept of humanitarian concern for the welfare of others exists as a foundation of the Army way of life. Army posts, familiar to the pioneers, were oftentimes isolated and located in hostile and dangerous environments, seldom located near a civilian community, and had limited and infrequent communication with the world outside its protective fortifications. The early day Army existed as a closely knit, distinct and generally self-sufficient society. The pioneer Army wife knew hardship in her environment, but she established an enviable pattern of personal sacrifice and compassion still found in the Army spouse of today.

For years, Army wives operated lending closets, thrift shops, and nurseries; raised funds to help the needy; assisted in emergencies; taught and trained the inexperienced; provided care and comfort to the ill and bereaved; and through a grassroots understanding of the Army community, contributed significantly to its stability. An adverse aspect of these social service activities was that they often disappeared or stagnated when their originators transferred or left the service.

Army Community Service (ACS) was designed to eliminate this adverse aspect and provide a flexible framework for the operation of a viable system of social services. Changes in the Army community have been substantial and significant, and reflect the changes of the larger society which it serves; however, the major impact of these changes has been most apparent since 1940.

In 1940, the active Army numbered 269,000 of whom only 25 percent were married. The advent of World War II (WWII) rapidly altered this picture. The rapid buildup of U.S. defensive forces, and their deployment worldwide had a devastating impact on American Family life. Long separations, lack of communication, meager pay, fear, and reports of casualties brought disruption and insecurity to Army families who shared this experience.

An important resource for the alleviation of social welfare problems of Soldiers and their Families came in the 1940s in the form of Army Emergency Relief (AER). Funded by donations of the American public and proceeds of the Irving Berlin Broadway hit "This is the Army" AER offices were located at Army posts throughout the United States in 1941. One large metropolitan AER office, and the only one so established, was located in New York City on 5 February 1942.

Staffed by military and civilian personnel, and a large number of civilian volunteers, this unusual quasi military organization operated under the supervision of the 1202nd Service Command Unit. In March 1944, the AER office was redesignated "Personnel Affairs Branch", but continued its same operations with a slightly altered but effective relationship with AER funding. In operation until the end of WWII, this organization through an interesting coincidence provided the framework for development of ACS more than 20 years later.

In providing assistance, the New York AER not only had access to AER funds, but also drew on a network of resources from Salvation Army, Department of Welfare, Navy Relief, Catholic Charities, and many other civic organizations to ease the problems and hardships of Soldiers and their Families. Civilian psychiatrists, social workers, lawyers, and the police donated their professional expertise to assist in difficult cases, free of charge.

Then, L T Emma M. Baird was assigned to the aforementioned AER and Personnel Affairs Offices during the major period of their existence, as the Allowance and Allotment Officer. This experience formed the background of her planning the structure and organization of a "Family services program which was to become ACS.

On 25 July 1965, General Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff dispatched a letter to all major commanders announcing the approval and establishment of the ACS. The initial implementation of the new ACS program caused minor confusion from the almost simultaneous release of various Family assistance guidance. Publication of Army Regulation 608-1 on 19 November 1965 superseded all previous instructions and ACS finally was welcomed as a viable and important Army program. Born in a climate of some confusion may be a partial explanation of why ACS continues by many to be called "Army Community Services". There are innumerable Army community services; however, there is only one officially designated Army Community Service.

Army Community Service Logo

In the early spring of 1966, LTC Emma Baird traveled to Europe to assist commanders in establishing ACS Centers. By 1967 the majority of CONUS installations had initiated ACS Centers. By 1969, 155 ACS Centers and points of contact were established Army wide. The largest majority of overseas centers were located in Germany, but wherever American troops served, an ACS Center or ACS point of contact was established.

From the beginnings of ACS, thousands of Army wives have enhanced and improved the lives of fellow members of their Army community. From the initiation of the ACS program, and throughout its history, the volunteers, primarily Army wives, have ensured the success and the support of the ACS program.

One Army wife who has made notable contributions to development of the ACS program was Mrs. George S. Patton (Joanne). An early advocate for assistance to military personnel with exceptional Family members, Mrs. Patton's input to the success of the Army efforts in this area has been continuous and unstinting. Appointed as ACS Volunteer Consultant to the Department of the Army in 1980, Mrs. Patton continued to bring her talent, experience, and wholehearted belief in ACS to benefit Army Families. Her abilities helped in achieving meaningful assistance meeting the needs of exceptional Family members.

The revised version of AR 608-1 on 1 October 1978, introduced new avenues of accomplishment of this viable program. Budget counseling and debt liquidation, relocation assistance, and an information program at many ACS centers, became services offered by ACS. The revised regulation incorporated the Army Child Advocacy Program (ACAP) into ACS; established the Army Child Support Services Program; established criteria for financial support, personnel functions and duties, and program requirements; and incorporated standards for child health and safety protection at military facilities offering temporary care for children.

Since the revised publication of AR 608-1 in 1978, additional programs were formed under the ACS umbrella. In 1982, the Family Advocacy Program and the Family Member Employment Assistance Program were officially established. In 1988, the Relocation Assistance Program was officially established by a Department of Defense Instruction and further mandated by Public Law in 1989. In its current structure, ACS consists of the Relocation Assistance Program, the Consumer Affairs and Financial Assistance Program, the Family Member Employment Assistance Program, the Volunteer Program, the Exceptional Family Member Program, the Family Advocacy Program, the Outreach Program, and the Information, Referral, and Follow-up Program.

On 7 October 1987 LTC (Ret) Emma Marie Baird passed away. The then U. S. Army Community and Family Support Center proposed a Memorial Award for Outstanding Volunteers be created to honor LTC Baird. This award was approved by the Secretary of the Army on 29 August 1988. Since that time the award has been presented to those volunteers who have demonstrated extraordinary dedication and sustained service to Army Community Service.

In 1995, an official mission statement was established for ACS. The mission of the ACS Center is to facilitate commander's ability to provide comprehensive, coordinated, and responsive services that support readiness of Soldiers, civilian employees, and their Families.

Today, 83 ACS Centers worldwide remain an integral part of the Army Family by supporting the Army Force Generation Model (ARFORGEN) and unit commanders by identifying quality of concerns and supports restoration of balance by improving predictable standardized services and programs across the Army. ACS supports the ARFORGEN through Family Assistance Centers, Soldier Readiness Processing, Deployment Cycle Support, Operation READY, Family Readiness Groups, Rear Detachments, Military and Family Life Consultants, and the vFRG.

The core programs and services provided by ACS Centers have grown from its early days to include: Army Family Action Plan, Army Family Team Building, Army OneSource, Army Volunteer Corps, Exceptional Family Member, Family Advocacy, Financial Readiness, Information and Referral, Relocation Readiness, Sexual Assault and Response Program, Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Spouse Employment, Survivor Outreach Services, Transitional Compensation, and Victim Advocacy. ACS continues to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of the global Army Family. 

ACS 50th Birthday

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