CHALESTON, S.C. (Army News Service, Oct. 10, 2008) -- When Barclay Murphy's 36-year-old husband, Maj. Ed Murphy, was killed in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan in April 2005, she was left a widow to raise two young children on her own.

When she relocated from Italy back to her native Charleston, S.C., after his death, she was embraced and supported not only by her parents, but by an outpouring of strength and resolve in the historic southern community she and her family once again call home.

It was in that spirit that the Charleston chapter of the Association of the United States Army organized and hosted an Army Community Covenant signing at the Citadel Sept. 26. Peter E. Kunkel, the acting assistant secretary of the Army (financial management and comptroller) came to Charleston to participate in the city's symbolic and public commitment to the continued support of Soldiers, families and veterans. The emotive ceremony was also attended by more than 100 influential community leaders from AUSA, educators, small businesses, local, country and state elected officials and members of the Army's active, Reserve and National Guard.

"It is clear that great local communities and their leaders underpin the strength of our Soldiers in South Carolina," Kunkel said. "Your outpouring of generosity and kindness for our Soldiers and their Families is tremendous. Today the community of Charleston has come together to honor its commitment to Army Families, and I'm here to say thank you."

Since Secretary of the Army Peter Geren first introduced the community covenant initiative last year, more than 50 other communities across the United States have hosted similar ceremonies publicly demonstrating distinct volunteer efforts dedicated to helping the American Soldier and his or her family members.

Among many things, the covenant serves to recognize the direct connection of the strength in families when supported by their community. Kunkler said that the volunteer efforts of those in the Charleston region "demonstrate the finest characteristics of service and what it truly means to be an American."

'What you do makes a perceivable impact on the readiness of the U.S. Army and the U.S. military," Kunkel said. "Those small acts add up and add up into an easier time for Soldiers so they can go out and bring home victory."

Larry Dandridge, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and current Charleston chapter AUSA president, who organized the event, said, "It raises the level of awareness in the Charleston community about what our troops do for our country and what our veterans have already done."

He added that this "agreement" formally "puts in writing what every community in the lower state of South Carolina has naturally done during all its history." Dandridge is especially proud of the support provided for wounded, ill, injured and needy troops and their survivors, as well as the work of the Veterans Administration hospitals.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who along with several of his local leader counterparts signed the covenant, said he believes one would be hard pressed to find another city in America whose patriotism is as philosophically ingrained.

"Our love and respect for those who put on the uniform here and for our country is so deep and profound here in Charleston that I do not think it can be rivaled anywhere else in the country," he said.

It's that very point of view that makes a difference to families like the Murphy's.

Although she said time doesn't ease the pain of their loss, for Barclay, and her children, Elly and Luke, living in Charleston where they have a strong, supportive community, does. "I'm grateful for organizations like AUSA who keep us in the Army Family."

(Master Sgt. Kanessa R. Trent serves with OCPA-LA.)