Army reaffirms Family Covenant
October 6, 2009
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 6, 2009) -- Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston reaffirmed the Army's commitment to Soldiers and their families by signing a family covenant Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting.
Sheila L. Casey, who has moved 23 times throughout her husband's career, opened the Family Forum, attended by more than 600 Army spouses.
The chief of staff's wife said that while Army spouses tended to be caregivers, it was imperative they find time to balance their lives between family and themselves as individuals. She said one of the most difficult things to do was to find balance everyday; that it wasn't being selfish, but it was imperative spouses not risk caregiver's fatigue by forgetting about themselves.
"The fact of the matter is: you are not going to be capable of taking care of anybody else, including your families, unless you take care of yourselves first," she said. "There are no medals for those who suffer the most burnout, and just as you need to be your number-one priority, I want you to know families are our number-one priorities."
The chief's wife related her testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June. She said that in the two years she traveled with her husband from post to post the issues she heard most about were: access to quality medical and mental health care, access to quality schools for Army children and improving the resources and opportunities for employment.
"Over the past few years, the Army has come a long way in terms of the level of quality of family support that we provide," she said. "We've seen it evolve from a loose and informal spouses-helping-spouses network to a fully regulated support network."
Following Mrs. Casey, the chief of staff reiterated to the audience the new Army secretary's commitment to the covenant and gave an overview of the state of the Army. He said the service was about halfway done with base realignment and closure with $65 billion going into installations in a five-year period. He added that it would amount to a "huge improvement in our quality of life across the Army."
"Oh, by the way, we're off 15-month deployments ... and as a result of that you're starting to see units getting more than 12 months, 15 months, sometimes 18 to 24 months home and we'll just have to see how we come out in these next discussions, but our objective is to move the active Army toward a one-year out, two-years back by '11," he said.
The chief also said the Army was originally tasked to bring in 74,000 new Soldiers by 2012, but was able to meet that goal last summer. He noted in 2004 the Army had 33 brigade combat teams and that had increased to 44 BCTs today, with the expectation of another by October 2010.
In July, the Army requested another 22,000 Soldiers temporarily which were needed to replace injured or already deployed Soldiers. He said that amounted to nearly 100,000 new troops over the last two or three years.
Casey asked the audience for a thumbs-up or down assessment on how well the Army was addressing and working to find solutions to issues faced by Army families, adding that the Army was seeking to standardize family programs for consistency from post to post but that he didn't want to stifle individual initiatives on installations.
The chief also said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had directed that money for family programs be moved into the base budget which means it doesn't go away when the war ends.
Family Readiness Support Assistance earned a rousing thumbs up while virtual Family Readiness Groups didn't fare as well. Thumbs were down on family health care, but the chief talked about the standup across the Army of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.
"It's a program designed to build resilience and enhance the performance of every Soldier, family member and civilian in the Army and it will start with an online survey," he said. "It gives you an assessment of your strengths in the five key areas of fitness, physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual ... and then it will connect you to online self-help modules."
Thumbs up were given to family life consultants and the improvement of Soldier and family housing as was excellence in schools, child care and the new Post-9/11 GI Bill transferability.
Lynn Heirakuji, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for personnel oversight, followed Casey and said that a survey had been been done to determine how well the Army has provided programs and services to geographically dispersed Soldiers and families, predominantly National Guard and Reserve.
Some 5,000 responses to the survey found there weren't large gaps in services, but more awareness and access to programs was needed.
The last speaker was Army Director of Installation Services Kathleen Marin who said some of the top services and most popular programs delivered through the family covenant have been respite child care, free child care and fitness classes, new parent support, SKIES Unlimited (schools of knowledge, inspiration, exploration and skills), Strong Bonds and Adventure Warrior Quest.