HOHENFELS, Germany - Senior leaders from the Joint National Training Command, Joint Multinational Readiness Center and U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels renewed the Army's commitment to taking care of Soldiers and families when they re-signed the Army Family Covenant at the USAG Hohenfels Community Activities Center.

First signed in 2007 by the Secretary, Chief of Staff, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army, the document recognizes the sacrifices of Army families and serves as the Army's promise to support them through programs focused on housing, healthcare, child care, education and more.

Before re-signing the document, Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, JMTC commander, spoke to community members about the Covenant's importance.

"Our Army is the strength of our nation, and our families are the strength of each and every one of us. Without our families we can't serve and we can't fight. The covenant is about...the pact we make as a team," said Salazar.

To honor their part in that pact, the Army committed $1.4 billion to improve the quality of life for Army Families in Fiscal Year 2008 and a similar level of budget for the next five years.

At USAG Hohenfels, the Covenant has meant improved infrastructure, increased childcare opportunities for families of deployed Soldiers and an expanded support system for all members of the military family.

In the past year, families at USAG Hohenfels have received immediate financial benefits from the Covenant in the form of more than $10,000 worth of free child care, 1,000 free Child, Youth and School Services registration passes for a savings of more than $18,000 and 29 special childcare openings at the Child Development Center and School Age Services that have provided care for more than 700 children.

Those savings come from new policies that provide more free and reduced-fee care for children of deployed Soldiers and Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers. For example, children of deployed Soldiers receive 16 hours of free care per month, starting 30 days before a deployment and ending 60 days after the Soldier's redeployment. Beyond those 16 hours, care is just $2 per hour. Children with deployed parents also receive up to four free programs through the School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills, and two free CYSS sports. Parents even receive free childcare during Family Readiness Group meetings and mandatory deployment meetings.

Stacye Downing, USAG Hohenfels Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director, said the Covenant's success is perhaps best observed by noting the parents that choose to remain in Europe when their spouse deploys, a number she says has increased since the Covenant was first signed.

"The Army Family Covenant is a contract we've signed to assist the families of those deployed," said Downing. "A military spouse used to rely solely on other military spouses. Now the trend is for the Army as a whole to help take care of families. We've really expanded our outreach efforts."

In addition to increasing childcare, the Army has funded programs at USAG Hohenfels such as Coping with Deployments, Battlemind Training for Spouses and Reintegration Training for family members. Most of the classes funded by the AFC are offered through Army Community Service that, since the creation of the AFC, has added eight new fulltime positions including an outreach coordinator and Family Advocacy Program specialist.

The Army's commitment to improving Soldier and family quality of life has also funded numerous USAG Hohenfels construction projects, including a $2.8 million upgrade to the physical fitness center that lead to an increase of over 3,800 square feet and new state-of-the art weight and cardio equipment; a $180,000 investment in the newly opened Kid's Play Zone; a $280,000 upgrade to the SAS playground that added all new playground equipment, a new safe play surface and outdoor covered rest area; an almost $1 million renovation project for the teen center that expanded the space by over 3,100 square feet, added new activity rooms, a new security system and all new furniture; and the development of USAG Hohenfel's first Warrior Adventure Quest program featuring fully certified instructors to guide 24 All Terrain Vehicles through more than 15 kilometers of off-road trails.

And the improvements are not over. Coming in December, a joint USAG Hohenfels and AAFES project to consolidate AAFES services in a mini-mall concept in a renovated Bldg. 9 will include a Bookmark (currently located inside the Post Exchange), Pxtra, car rental, dry cleaning, military clothing sales and a drive-through ATM.

Salazar said highlighting these accomplishments while remaining committed to the future was exactly why he and other leaders gathered at USAG Hohenfels to re-sigh the Covenant.

"This is not just about where we're at, it's about where we want to go," said Salazar. "I see this as part birthday party and part commencement-birthday party to acknowledge that we started this is 2007 and it is now 2009 and we're proud of the things we've done before, but a commencement in that we're graduating from all of that and now moving forward in creating a new vision and we're figuring out together how we get to that vision."