WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 27, 2009) - The Army Family Action Plan kicked off its 25th anniversary conference with Secretary of the Army Pete Geren telling the 117 delegates that funding would double from $700 million to $1.4 billion for family programs in the coming year.

"They have done more than any other single organization to make sure the Army is responsive to the needs of our families."

Geren also told the attendees -- who represent all Army components and are made up of Soldiers, wounded warriors, spouses, children, parents and retirees -- that "they have done more than any other single organization to make sure the Army is responsive to the needs of our families."

The Army has come a long way since 1983 when AFAP began, Geren said, adding that the Army now understands the dynamic needs of families.

"There have been some major initiatives that come from legislation, some come from policy, but what I think will really make the Army work for Army families and what will really make the family covenant program meaningful on a grassroots level are all the little tweaks, the little changes here and there that just show our leadership is responding and listening," he said.

Geren added that the family covenant was a commitment and promise of the Army to the Army family and of the Army family to the Army to work together toward positive change. He said the covenant should always be innovative with constant recommitment by both sides.

He and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., have directed that anytime a senior commander departs a post, the incoming commander will re-execute the family covenant so it will never become stale.

The secretary said the AFAP conference has been instrumental in helping the Army slowly put different pieces in place to help make the service work better for its families. He added that since the inception of the all-volunteer force in 1973, the changes the Army has made have been revolutionary.

"The Army of today doesn't look like the Army of 1973 in so many ways," he said.

"The all-volunteer force required us to think very differently about many aspects of the Army and certainly family support. We came through the 70s and early 80s and took some major steps forward when it came to compensation, so we have a compensation system that attempts to be competitive with what comparably accomplished people would expect in the outside civilian world."

Geren said that also in the 80s and 90s health care had been a major focus and that AFAP had taken the lead in making sure health care plans were responsive to the needs of families. It's a challenge that will never be completely fixed, he said, noting the Army will continue to adapt and to evolve. Tricare was a major step forward, he said.

"In the late 90s and the early part of this century, we've made great progress in RCI (residential community initiative) housing," Geren said. "The quality of those homes has just been life-changing for so many families and not just for Army families but for enlisted Soldiers too as we replace the barracks to provide barracks that meet their expectations and give the kind of quality of life they should expect."

Delegates will be working 100 issues through eight seminar groups during the conference which runs through Jan. 30. The field will be narrowed to 16 issues, then five will be prioritized and worked by the delegates for presentation to the chief of staff.