By Kari Hawkins, Redstone RocketJuly 2, 2008
On the day local community leaders joined with Redstone Arsenal officials to sign a community covenant, Nansi Clark said goodbye to her son as he left home to become a freshman - better known as a plebe -- at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
And with that farewell, she joined the ranks of families making sacrifices so that the country's Army remains strong, steadfast and ready to stand up for freedom anywhere in the world.
"I am so proud. But at the same time it is so hard," she said of her son Zach's departure.
Clark was also preparing to say goodbye to her daughter, Shige, who would leave later in the week to join her older brother at West Point.
"They both wanted to serve their country," she said. "My daughter has wanted to since she was very young. My son has felt that same want during the last couple of years. They both want to serve their country and get an education, and they knew they could get the best education at West Point. They've always looked up to military officers."
Clark - sometimes teary eyed and other times smiling - made it a point to attend the Community Covenant Signing Ceremony at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's Davidson Center for Space Exploration on June 25. She knows little about the support the Army provides its families. Although both her children participated in the JROTC program at Bob Jones High, theirs is not a military family.
"We had to go through the entire process, including the congressional recommendation, so they could go to West Point," Clark said.
While at the ceremony, Clark met representatives of Army Community Service, which works to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and their families as well as DoD civilians. She also shook hands with many of the community leaders who participated in the covenant signing.
"This was a great ceremony. It's nice to see military families get so much support from the community," Clark said.
Community leaders from Huntsville, Madison, Madison County, the communities of the Tennessee Valley and the State of Alabama joined with Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody, Redstone Arsenal and AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, Garrison commander Col. John Olshefski, and other Arsenal and community representatives to sign the Community Covenant. The ceremony included a performance by the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus.
Speaking on behalf of Redstone Arsenal and the entire Army, the Army's 31st vice chief of staff thanked the local community for support that is "critical to keeping the Army strong, fully mission capable and with an edge against the enemy."
The support and appreciation the local community gives its Soldiers and their families "lets them know America cares about them," Cody said.
"Soldiers and family members don't ask much. But they do ask 'Is America behind them' Does America appreciate their selfless sacrifice'' We don't agree on everything. But we do agree to support the men and women of the military. And that's the strength that holds this great nation together."
Myles said the community's signing of the covenant represents "continued support. This is a special community. This community gets it. This community understands what the military mission is. This community understands what our Soldiers and their families need - and that's our support."
The Army is working with all communities in which it has a presence to sign a community covenant, which is designed to foster effective state and community partnerships with the Army in improving the quality of life for Soldiers and their families, both at their current duty stations and as they transfer from state to state. The goal is to have all Army communities participate in covenant signings by December.
The local covenant signing ceremony was part of the annual Armed Forces Celebration Week, and it served to restate the commitment Huntsville, Madison, Madison County, the Tennessee Valley and the State of Alabama has had with the Army at Redstone Arsenal for many years, retired Brig. Gen. Larry Capps told the audience at the ceremony. That commitment is a "responsibility not taken lightly" by the community, he said.
"The Army has the support of a community determined to preserve a legacy" that started with the nation's space program at Redstone Arsenal and is today symbolized by the Saturn 5 rocket on display overhead in the Davidson Center, he said.
The covenant signing "celebrates our strong bonds uniting our community with the military," said Irma Tuder, chair-elect of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. "This is an important declaration of our continued support and is in keeping with the community's long tradition."
Mentioning the local universities, research parks, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Arsenal, Tuder said "the military defines who we are today ... Our community is committed to helping Soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. We cherish these relationships."