By Douglas DeMaio, USAG Bamberg Public AffairsJuly 2, 2009
BAMBERG, Germany -- For a little less than two years now Soldiers and their families have received new resources and greater access to services thanks to the Army Family Covenant.
More than $1 billion has been spent throughout the Army to improve Soldiers' and family members' quality of life.
"The Army Family Covenant is still somewhat in its infancy," said Lt. Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg commander. "Nevertheless, there has been great progress as a result of the covenant. Several projects, programs and services have been developed or implemented to improve community members' quality of life."
In the past two years, Bamberg's Morale, Welfare and Recreation has received more than $800,000 for Army Family Covenant monies, said Darrell Clay, director of MWR.
Last year, funds were focused on quality of life projects like recreation, leisure, entertainment and youth services, Clay said. A shift was made this year toward more Child Youth and School Services programs, which focuses on the covenant's promise of "ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and child care."
In the past two years, 47 percent of Bamberg MWR covenant funds were spent on CYSS, he said. Funds for this year were strictly limited to CYSS.
Of all the children on post, 50 percent are under 6 years old. These funds provide services like childcare, respite care and child development. Some of the funds are used to subsidize costs for some of these services.
Although most of the covenant funds for the garrison were focused on MWR, there are other areas that don't use covenant funds but still fulfill covenant promises.
Chaplin (Maj.) David Jacob provides Soldiers and family members with retreats. In the past nine months, he has offered three marriage retreats and one deployed-Soldier-spouse retreat, which is a retreat for the spouse and children while the Soldier is deployed.
The retreats have 25 to 30 couples or families attend, Jacob said. The retreats are well received and give families and couples time to reconnect.
The retreats are paid by Global War on Terrorism funds, but support covenant promises for "building a partnership with Army Families that enhances their strength and resilience."
Another area that fulfills covenant promises without using covenant funds is "increasing accessibility and quality of health care."
Lt. Col. Pablito R. Gahol, U.S. Army Health Clinic Bamberg commander, focused on fulfilling support promises by the Army's leadership through initiatives.
"As clinic commanders, we are held responsible for meeting the access to care standards," Gahol said.
TRICARE Access-to-Care standards categorizes appointments by urgency. For an acute problem, appointments are required within a 24-hour period, he said. Routine problems require an appointment within 7 days and specialty and wellness issues require an appointment within 30 days.
By creating a telephonic appointment system through his Army Family Covenant initiatives, Gahol was able to provide and implement a system to reduce wait times so patients have better accessibility to care.
Gahol also said he actively recruits top medical professionals for the community and markets the clinic's services to the community.
"We pursue recruitment of medical staff that is board certified in their specialty," he said. "We make sure we have the best in the field working here at the clinic."
Other areas where Bamberg uses other funding to support covenant promises is in the housing-improvement projects.
The Directorate of Public Works receives funds for projects from several different fund sites, said David Thompson, DPW director. These projects have secondary effects that directly support the Army Family Covenant.
DPW has spent more than $12 million in 2008 and $8 million in 2009 on what would be considered Quality of Life projects.
In family housing, more than 400 home-improvement projects for kitchens and closets were made in the past two years using Army Family Housing funds, Thompson said. More than 950 single Soldiers living in the barracks were impacted by flagship projects last year. These projects improved or repaired individual Soldier's rooms as well as a number of common areas, kitchens and bathrooms for the barracks.
The projects fulfill covenant promises of "providing Soldiers and Families a Quality of Life that is commensurate with their service" and "improving Soldier and Family housing."
However, not all services are fulfilling covenant promises this well.
Bamberg is currently not an enduring installation, therefore it doesn't receive certain funds for projects like a bigger shopping center, which had been programmed but was taken off the Army Air Force Exchange Service's project list a couple of years ago.
A bigger shopping center could provide the community with more services and provide more jobs for family members. Working on the local economy has limitations and shortages of jobs within the community can cause challenges for spouses who want to work.
"Finding work is not always easy for the spouse of a Soldier stationed overseas," said Jeff Card, Employment Readiness Program manager.
Spouses who want to work could wait more than a year to find employment.
The Employment Readiness Program, which assists with job searches and provides training, resume-writing, and career development, tries to shorten the average time period it takes for spouses to find a job and increase spouses' competitiveness for the local job market.
"The limited number of jobs available in the community somewhat limits our ability to fully demonstrate our commitment to 'expanding... employment opportunities for Family members,'" Rosenberg said.
"While employment opportunities can be a challenge when stationed overseas, opportunities for advancing your education are numerous," said Ed Stitt, education services specialist.
The Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy has funded the Spouse Career Advancement Account, known as MyCAA, which provides up $6,000 to assist spouses with career and education development.
"MyCAA is meeting the needs of the Army Family Covenant and is a great program for advancing your education," Stitt said.
"Overall, I think the Army in general, and USAG Bamberg in particular, has done a good job of implementing the Army Family Covenant," Rosenberg said. "Nevertheless, General Carter Ham, the U.S. Army Europe commander, has directed a review of the Army Family Covenant programs in Europe to verify our progress."