By USAG Benelux Public AffairsJanuary 12, 2009
USAG BENELUX, Belgium-Oct. 26, 2007, was a day that forever changed the Army. It was a day when leaders looked beyond the mission of winning America's wars on battlefields around the world to a future that embraced the Families who support Soldiers and who support the Army.
That moment in history was the day that Army leaders acknowledged the hardships military Families face and the day it committed to the Army Family Covenant.
"We felt that we needed a covenant; a statement of our commitment to really tell Families that we are taking our support to another level," said Gen. George Casey, Army Chief of Staff, when he signed the pledge.
More than a year later, the Army and the USAG Benelux remain committed to that mission.
The Benelux and its indirect garrisons are three of only a few Army installations worldwide that serve predominantly non-Army communities due to their partnerships with NATO through supporting operations at NATO Headquarters, SHAPE and JFC Brunssum. However, that unique mission has not deterred any of the garrisons from vigorously implementing the AFC.
"While the Army Family Covenant is a compact between the Army and Army Families, my leadership has encouraged us in Brussels to make the Covenant all-inclusive," said Lt. Col. Darin S. Conkright, USAG Brussels garrison commander, "and we believe we've delivered to all those we serve, Soldiers and non-Soldiers."
The Army received $1.4 billion to fund the AFC in fiscal year 2008, and those funds weren't limited to only Army Families. Covenant regulations specify that funds can be used to serve an installation's broader audience, allowing all U.S. military Families to benefit from things like free sports activities, free classes and free or discounted child care if their military member deployed or went on an extended TDY.
Schinnen's FY08 Covenant funds were dispersed to a variety of projects, said Farideh Kastens, Schinnen's Child & Youth Services coordinator. Her CYS customers include military children and Families from Kleine Brogel Airbase in Belgium, Geilenkirchen NATO Airbase and Rheindalem NATO Base in Germany; plus Joint Forces Command (NATO), Volkel Airbase, the 598th Trans Group (Rotterdam) and USAG Schinnen in the Netherlands.
"The Army's intent behind Covenant funds was to show appreciation for the sacrifices Families have made these past years during multiple deployments and separations," said Kastens.
The USAG Benelux Equal Opportunity Advisor sponsored a trip to Breendonk Concentration Camp north of Brussels, and because of Covenant dollars, two 8th grade classes from Brussels American School were also able to attend.
Judi Nicolay, a teacher at the school, inquired about including the students because the two classes had just finished reading Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl."
"This was an outstanding opportunity for our students," she said. "A few got to attend with a parent as a result, but all benefited from the visit to this grim site. It made their class assignment come alive. I'm really grateful for the Army's going this extra mile."
Air Force Col. Craig Schlattman is also impressed with Covenant-related initiatives at Brussels, such as the waiving of annual registration fees for CYSS sports. "The fact that the waiver is across-the-board is an impressive signal to all of us in the Brussels community," he said.
Because of Schlattman's appreciation of how the Covenant has helped his family and others, he volunteered to be a CYSS basketball coach for the winter season. "It's the least I can do in return," he said.
At ChiAfA..vres Garrison, many AFC programs like childcare and youth sports are located on SHAPE, NATO's international strategic military headquarters. Also on SHAPE, is USAG Benelux's Army Community Services.
Through the Army Family Covenant, ACS has hired, trained and maintained more professional staff members to increase programs available to local Servicemembers and their Families, said Vicki Hamlin, USAG Benelux ACS director.
Because of the expansion and success of services like the Mobilization and Deployment Program, Soldier and Family Assistance Center and the Exceptional Family Member Program, the Benelux ACS was named the 2008 Installation of Excellence for a small garrison.
Covenant dollars have also helped strengthen programs like Financial Readiness, Army Emergency Relief, Army Family Team Building, American Family Action Plan, the Volunteer Corps and Family Advocacy.
"The Covenant money really had a strong, positive impact on military Families in the tri-border area, and we expect that to continue," said Kastens. "IMCOM-Europe has confirmed that we'll get a continuation of these funds to make sure we can go on with the programs we've put in place."
Emily Nunn, Schinnen's Outreach Services director, is already experiencing an increase in calls from tri-border parents who are either preparing to deploy or are following up after a spouse has deployed. "Families are hearing about these excellent benefits and calling to take advantage," she said.
(Sarah Schmidt, Thad Moyseowicz and Christie Vanover contributed to this story)