ChiAfA..vres Air Base, Belgium - USAG Benelux is among the Army's best at caring for military families, single soldiers and the civilian workforce.

With honors like the 2008 Army Community Service Installation of Excellence and 2008 Outstanding Garrison Recreation Program, the Benelux has expanded opportunities for not only U.S. Soldiers and Families but for all U.S. Servicemembers and NATO allies who are in need of support within the Benelux communities, proving its dedication to the Army Family Covenant.

Improving the quality of life throughout Brussels, Schinnen and ChiAfA..vres is also a top priority of all of the commanders, and the efforts to exceed that goal were recognized by the Secretary of the Army in 2008.

In addition to caring for married military Families, the Army recognized the Benelux's dedication to Single Soldiers through the Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers program and to the betterment of the civilian workforce through employee development.

When it comes to meeting the needs of Soldiers' Families, the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux was recognized as one of the Army's best.

The garrison's Army Community Service was named the ACS Installation of Excellence for a small garrison in August because of the significant contributions it makes to its communities, Servicemembers and Families.

"Receiving such an award shows the level of emphasis the commander, the command group and the garrison place on the Army Family Covenant," said Rich Gorman, executive director, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.

The award came in large part to the efforts and new leadership of Vicki Hamlin who was recognized personally and named the Army's ACS Outstanding Employee for a small garrison.

As the new ACS Director, Hamlin has quadrupled the number of staff to meet Army requirements. She created two new programs: the Soldier and Family Assistance Center and Mobilization and Deployment. She also reenergized seven other programs while supporting the Army Family Covenant initiative.

Hamlin is humbled by the awards and attributes the success to her entire team of staff members, which is made up of Family Members; military retirees, representing all branches of service; Department of the Army civilians; Belgian Host Nation employees and many volunteers.

"What this award demonstrates is the outstanding work by a team of ACS professionals who brought their passion and diverse experience to this distinct community to create a variety of programs and services for the Americans," she said.

The USAG Benelux ACS is one of the only centers located on an international base. In addition to caring for Army Families, ACS also supports Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Hamlin said by partnering with other U.S. elements, the ACS Financial Readiness program offers more classes within units and Family Readiness Groups and more individual assistance and consumer advocacy sessions.

Not only does the ACS extend the Army Family Covenant to other branches, it extends its community pledge to aid 42 other nations by providing resources and classes to all personnel assigned to the SHAPE, ChiAfA..vres, Brussels and Schinnen areas.

Approximately 50 percent of Family Advocacy and Relocation Readiness classes are filled with international participants, said Hamlin. Additionally, ACS is working with its international partners and host nation to develop resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Through a thorough review process Hamlin's team revamped and revitalized services and ensured the ACS programs met the mandates and standards set by the Department of Defense and Department of the Army.

"This community can be confident that ACS has high quality programs and services that meet all requirements and are moving forward to expand and improve services for military Families in accordance with the Army Family Covenant," said Hamlin.

Diane Devins, commander, Installation Management Command-Europe traveled to the Benelux and expressed her appreciation to the ACS team by presenting them with a certificate and coin in October.

"Thank you for all you do for Family members every day," she said. "Folks like me understand the work you do and how important it is."

Pina Artale, Michele Barber, Bonnie Thomas, Dee Ford, Christine Studer, Veronique Hensgen, Yvette Castro, Maria Romero, Carrie Tuck, Comel Rooms, Deborah Wheeler and Hamlin were among those recognized.

USAG Schinnen Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation was one of two European winners of the Garrison Exemplary Employee Development Award for Fiscal Year 2008. The award recognized Army Garrisons that have demonstrated a strong commitment to Family and MWR employees through training, coaching and mentoring. The USAG Schinnen FMWR was presented a trophy from Maj. Gen. John Macdonald, commander, the U.S. Army FMWR Command, at the Family and Solder Action Plan Symposium in Kentucky on Aug. 27. The prize included reimbursement of up to $2,500 for employee development and a one-day training session conducted in Schinnen by the FMWRC training academy.

While Sgt. Jessenia Diaz Lopez held the role as president for the U. S. Army Garrison Schinnen Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers Program she took top honors.

The commanding general and command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command named her BOSS President of the Year during the annual BOSS Forum in Virginia in August.

Diaz Lopez was a chaplain assistant serving in the Allied Joint Forces Command International Chapel on the NATO base at JFC Brunssum.

"Sgt. Diaz has done an excellent job as president and this recognition is in line with her hard work and dedication to the BOSS Program," said USAG Benelux Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Ford, "It's a great reflection on her, her unit and the entire Benelux family of garrisons."

"I was surprised when they announced my name and am honored to be recognized," said Diaz Lopez. "I felt I was able to support Soldiers, influence the events we held and give back to the community."

The SHAPE Performing Arts Centre's Entertainment Director Dan LaMorte was named the 2008 Morale, Welfare and Recreation Employee of the Year. Under his leadership, the SHAPE Players have traveled around the world and received numerous awards for their performances.

In 2008, they received the IMCOM and Army-level awards for Outstanding Garrison Recreation Program-Entertainment of a small venue, due in part to the 11 Topper Awards they received in 2008 for various productions. The Centre also received the Twink Lynch Award.

LaMorte's artistic efforts, developed over his 30 years of theater experience, have garnered the most awards in the SHAPE Player's history. He is present at every performance and works to involve the international communities that work and live at SHAPE to bring together their diversity. LaMorte has tripled volunteer participation by increasing cast-sized productions and regularly recruiting and doubling the theatre audience.

Since being named Employee of the Year, LaMorte continues to take the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre to new heights. He received the first place Award for Direction at the annual One Act Festival in Heidelberg, Germany, where his production of "Hold Me" was also the first place winner.

USAG Brussels was one of only eight U.S. Army garrisons worldwide honored by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren for superior performance in enhancing the Quality of Life for the populations they serve.

The Quality of Life Awards were presented in Washington, D.C., in October, and the award was formally presented to the assembled Brussels garrison by Vice Admiral "Bill" Sullivan later that month.

"You're the smallest U.S. Army Garrison in Europe and one of a select few whose charter is to serve a community that's militarily joint and heavily interagency in makeup," said Sullivan, the U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee, as he presented the award and recognized the garrison's Information Fair initiative.

Unlike most other posts, USAG Brussels is not self-contained. It hosts neither a Commissary nor PX and has no military family housing or military hospital. There is no base theater or swimming pool or golf course. The garrison compound proper hosts the bare minimum essential services to support a community of some 2,700 men, women and children drawn from all the U.S. military services and a number of other U.S. agencies.

The Brussels Information Fair was the brainchild of the USAG Brussels' Relocation Manager, Host Nation employee Cathy Blumental. Blumental early on recognized the far-flung nature of USAG Brussels' customer base and the need for community members to know how to access not only USAG-provided services, but Belgian offerings or necessities like banking, public transportation, language instruction, churches and Communal representatives.

Chris Grigsby, the Brussels' garrison's deputy commander, credits Blumental with enhancing the community's awareness of the many pluses of life outside the gate.

"Cathy's done the community a great service by stressing the many spices that together make Brussels quality of life so high," he said.

The limited manning and budget of the Brussels Relocation Program led Blumental to conceive of an event that would bring representatives of each of these entities to the USAG Brussels compound once a year, in September, just at the end of the PCS transfer season. The cost to the Army was minimal as USAG Brussels provided the venue and organization.

Now in its ninth consecutive year, the Info Fair has remained a huge hit with the Brussels community and has steadily grown. Grigsby, in his first year in Brussels, is impressed.

"Thanks to the Info Fair, for one day a year, we bring Brussels to the USAG Brussels compound. Our Brussels community gets one-stop shopping for everything it might need to know about Brussels," he said.

(Christie Vanover, Thad Moyseowicz and Tom Budzyna contributed to this article.)