The Army Community Covenant was ratified by leaders from the state of South Carolina, Midlands communities and the Army Friday during a ceremony at Dreher High School.

The covenant pledges the communities' support to the Soldiers and family members in the area.

Columbia mayor Bob Coble, South Carolina comptroller general Richard Eckstrom and Brig. Gen. James H. Schwitters, Fort Jackson's commanding general, were among the dignitaries who ratified the document.

In his welcoming remarks, Ike McLeese, president of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, emphasized that everyone is indebted to those who choose to serve.

That gratitude was expressed by other representatives of the community as well.

"We are proud to be signing this very important document today," said Tori Anderson, who chairs the military employment task force at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. "However, it's most important that we put action behind these words and provide tangible programs that will truly support and ben efit the military community. It is our goal that, as military employment counselors, we'll do just that."

The Chamber of Commerce has started an initiative in an effort to create an employment database available to family members and retiring Soldiers.

Fort Jackson's leadership said McLeese's initiative exemplifies the spirit of the covenant.

"In his capacity as the civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army, Ike was the driving force for the covenant signing ceremony and the subsequent Army birthday celebration at Capital City Stadium Saturday night,"Aca,!E+said Scott Nahrwold, deputy garrison commander.

Col. Kevin Shwedo, Fort Jackson deputy commander, said that the efforts of McLeese's wife should not go unnoticed.

"Ike's wife Sue played a key role in the ceremony details like taking the original Army Community Covenant and changing the wording to personalize it for our community," he said.

Meanwhile, Schwitters emphasized that community support is a vital part in the Army's success.

"It is families, businesses and our communities that become the support and backbone of the Soldiers ... who engage in a most noble pursuit -- service to our nation," he said.

He praised the relationship between the greater Columbia area and Fort Jackson. He said it was a privilege "to be part of a community that repeatedly demonstrates its commitment to the Army."

Eckstrom pointed out that the state of South Carolina takes its commitment to the military seriously and that the state had established a military base task force six years ago.

"The objectives of that task force are very similar to the objectives stated in the Community Covenant," he said. "One of our primary focuses of the task force has been the focus on quality-of-life issues."

The covenant also pledges support to families of fallen and wounded Soldiers. Hampton Caughman, whose son Thomas died June 9, 2004, in Iraq, signed the covenant on behalf of military families.

In his speech, Caughman recounted how the continuous support of the community has helped his family deal with their loss.

"It means so much to know that the sacrifice of our military is appreciated and that (people) realize freedom is not free," he said.

Susanne.Kappler1@us.army.mil

Page last updated Fri June 20th, 2008 at 07:52