HEIDELBERG, Germany - Despite a sea of Army transformation washing over Europe, Installation Management Command's garrisons serve as lighthouses that Army Families depend upon to navigate the demands and stresses of recurring deployments.

As part of the Army Family Covenant, IMCOM-Europe has outfitted and provisioned three large lifeboats of critical support - Family Programs; Soldier and Community Recreation; and Child, Youth and School Services - that buoy Soldiers and Families, allowing them to effectively endure the "heavy weather" that has become a routine part of Army Family life in a time of war.

Family Programs
From the time the Covenant was unveiled in 2007, Army OneSource has made significant advances to improve ease of access and standardize services, programs and support to all Soldiers and their Families, regardless of location. The immediate return on investment for the Army Family included an increase of 74 front-door Army Community Service staff at European garrisons, 40 Military Family Life consultants, and the establishment of Soldier and Family Assistance Specialists at 13 installations that serve by Warrior Transition Units.

Clearly understanding that "taking care of families" impacts mission readiness, Army in Europe leadership has put its money where its mouth is when Family Readiness Groups leaders asked for more help, given the challenge associated with recruiting volunteers to assist the groups, especially with so many military spouses working today.

And with the "changing dynamics" idea in mind, Families and units will reap the benefits that USAREUR realized by receiving approval to fund 50 Family Readiness Support Assistant positions being established this year.

Under a New Parent Support Program aimed at strengthening knowledge and reducing stress among new or first-time parents (ranging from pregnancy through 3 years old) 14 garrisons gained 30 Home Visitor positions, enabling staff to conduct 4,000 home visits during fiscal year 2008 alone.

As part of Covenant plus-ups, parents of exceptional and special needs family members put "wind in their sails" by tapping into more than 25,000 hours of respite care that totaled $880,000. This service has become a staple resource for care that can be provided in the EFMP respite care user's home, EFMP respite care worker's home or other community childcare settings.

Furthermore, FRGs across Europe gained 5,000 hours of funded child care to allow spouses to attend meetings, ensuring program success.

Soldier and Community Recreation
Although most Soldiers and Families don't associate the Army Covenant with better physical fitness, that couldn't be further from the truth. As a starter, Covenant-enabled enhancements include increased hours of operation - beyond the 90-hour/week standard - now offered at a number of garrisons, according to IMCOM-Europe Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials.

Under a bulk-buy initiative that was quickly fielded in 2008, seven garrisons benefitted from a $1 million, Covenant-enabled investment that replaced legacy equipment with adaptive motion trainers that allow freedom of movement in a variety of challenging workouts, along with versatile Nautilus spin bikes.

Entertainment officials delivered by investing $840,000 in more than 100 quality performances delivered free to garrison communities. Acts included: rap stars Lil' John and Twista, and alternative bands Sevendust and Stained, and other groups as varied as the Seattle SuperSonic Cheerleaders.

Europe-based Soldiers deployed downrange also received direct support attributable to the Covenant with deployment kits chock-full of sports and recreation equipment, and library kits with new reading material to help them enjoy brief breaks while serving in a combat zone.

Redeploying war fighters benefitted from nearly $900,000 in funding set aside for the Warrior Adventure Quest program, designed to reduce post-deployment stress.

A pilot for the program was successfully tested in 2008 at garrisons in Vicenza, Italy, and Schweinfurt, Germany, with recently redeployed Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and the 172nd Infantry Brigade.

After Covenant-related investment in the acquisition of four paintball arenas, ski/snowboard equipment, mountain bikes and ATVs, the program formally launched in January 2009 for more than 8,000 Soldiers in Grafenwoehr (Vilseck's 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment), Ansbach (12th Combat Aviation Brigade) and Wiesbaden (1st Armored Division).

Under the Wounded Warrior Sports program, the Covenant enabled Baumholder and Vicenza garrisons to upgrade their aquatics programs for impacted Soldiers. And as part of a longer-term initiative across the footprint, Physical Therapy and Wellness Centers in Vicenza and USAG Stuttgart have been collocated in Fitness Centers.

Child, Youth & School Services
If return on Covenant investment is any measure, it's certainly a great time to be a kid in Europe - and equally great to be an Army parent as well, according to Cherri Verschraegen, chief of Child, Youth & School Services for IMCOM-Europe.

"With Covenant subsidies taken into account, parents at Europe garrisons pocketed a significant savings of nearly $1.6 million in benefits provided through reduced or eliminated registration fees for almost 38,000 children in the School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills (SKIES) and after-school, sports programs," she said.

Contributing to this significant figure was the nearly 116,000 hours of free respite care also provided to thousands of families during fiscal 2008 through CYSS, and more than 1,000 hours of additional care provided to the children of Europe's Warriors in Transition.

For the children of deployed Soldiers, the Covenant provided nearly 1,300 youth an opportunity to attend residential and day camps under the Camp A.R.M.Y Challenge program at a nominal fee, according to IMCOM-Europe CYSS official Joe Marton.

The Covenant also enabled the enlistment of a 200-person cadre of college interns who assisted in the implementation of these summer programs, allowing participants to further develop life skills and lifetime friendships.

Through constant investment in its facilities, IMCOM-Europe is ensuring the youngest members of the Army Family will see continued growth in Child Development services this year with the approval of funding for new modular facilities that will add more than 400 spaces at sites in Ansbach, Wiesbaden, Stuttgart and Landstuhl.

Expanded youth programming was also made possible through renovation of six Youth Centers, and new Youth Centers approved for construction at Vicenza and USAG Kaiserslautern. Access to programs was also beefed up through transportation funding to support youth programs and events, and to reduce the impact on Families.

Not to overlook school support with Department of Defense Dependents Schools, a number of items attributable to the Covenant were also instituted to help students across Europe reach their goals and potential.

As part of being the 'Army's home' and providing youth with the similar types of privileges their friends enjoy stateside, IMCOM-Europe supported DoDDS through the purchase and fielding of driving simulators at nine locations in Germany, Italy and the Benelux as part of a $430,000 initiative to help qualifying students receive a DoDDS driver education certificate.

School support also includes enhanced transportation at garrisons for Families to attend DoDDS related events and sports, and a vigorous Education Council Structure to partner and resolve issues effectively.

Much as the occupants of a lifeboat can't see over the horizon beyond the peaks of the waves around them, the coming year holds will continue to hold uncertainty for the Army Family.

However, Army Families "have a proven track record of meeting the challenges thrown at them by recurring or unexpected deployments, and the unique demands of being forward stationed in a foreign country," said Arnie Cole, chief of IMCOM-Europe Region MWR.

"Our Army Families can rest assured," he said, "that it's our intent to follow through with the commitment Army leadership has made through the Covenant to deliver a quality of life on par with the great service Soldiers and their Families render to our nation."