By Don KramerJanuary 29, 2010
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The Army is putting its money where its heart is through its commitment to Soldiers and families via the Army Family Covenant. In a time of widespread budget constraints, senior Army leadership continues to fund robust growth in programs and facilities under the covenant, including many visible on Fort Lewis.
"They're seriously looking at what Army families need and trying to meet those needs," said Barbara Sporcic, the Fort Lewis Child, Youth and School Services Division chief. "I've been working for the Army for 25 years and I've never seen such support as what we've gotten recently."
Under the Army Family Covenant, the Army displays daily its commitment to the sacrifices of family members. The covenant focuses on the quality of life of Soldiers and families by building a supportive environment that enhances their strength and resilience.
The covenant promises to improve family readiness by addressing five areas: "standardizing and funding existing family programs and services; increasing accessibility and quality of health care; improving Soldier and family housing; increasing excellence in schools, youth services and child care; and expanding education and employment opportunities for family members."
Fort Lewis leadership signed the covenant Nov. 2, 2007, at the Cascade Community Center, pledging continuing support for Army families.
Members of the Fort Lewis community and others surrounding it witnessed Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of I Corps and Fort Lewis; Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe, command sergeant major for I Corps and Fort Lewis; Col. Cynthia A. Murphy, then garrison commander; and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Willey, then the garrison command sergeant major, sign the covenant while surrounded by children, Soldiers and spouses.
"Today, we recognize the fact that the strength of our Army starts with the strength of our families," Jacoby said. "They are the unpaid, unequivocal and steadfast support system for our Soldiers."
Since that day, senior Fort Lewis leaders, subordinate commanders and directors have secured substantial funding for a wealth of projects with Soldiers' families in mind.
In fiscal year 2008, $22.7 million was spent in Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization projects for Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation/Community facilities renovate Cowan Track, upgrade Memorial Stadium, renovate Soldiers Field House and McVeigh Sports and Fitness Center, upgrade athletic fields at Soldiers Field House, and renovate Nelson Recreation Center, Carey, French and Evergreen theaters. The money also produced three new playgrounds at child development centers and a community dog park.
"We've got one EFMP playground being installed above the bowling alley," said ACS Family Event and Programs Coordinator Dale Rees. "We've got another one we're putting on North Fort. They're each specifically developed to provide a resource where parents who have EFMP children can take their children, go out and enjoy something in a safe and comfortable environment."
Each of the $600,000 playground systems is broken down (into ages) 0 to 5, 5 to 12 areas, providing places for children to play outdoors.
The following year, approximately $5 million in SRM was approved to renovate Bronson Hall, the VIP guest quarters, and design renovations of four other FMWR facilities. There was enough left to expand the fitness center at Yakima Training Center.
In 2009, Fort Lewis made extensive progress on several non-appropriated-fund projects, notably renovating the bowling center and beginning work on the lodge and the Warrior Zone. A project validation assessment concluded for renovating the auto craft center scheduled to be completed in Fiscal Year 2010.
Four child development centers broke ground in 2008, and a modular CDC opened in January 2009. The hourly-care CDC opened for the Fort Lewis Warrior Transition Unit in June 2009. Two other child development projects are being designed.
A total of 10 CDCs are under construction, seven new and three renovated, according to Denis Senftner, deputy director of FMWR, increasing capacity by more than 1,000 children at a cost of between $70 to $80 million.
"And that increases our ability to care for children of working parents," Sporcic said. "It's going to be about two to three times the current capacity from before we started building.
"She's grown two additional sports fields," Senftner said of Sporcic's ACS, "two sports complexes, that allow her children and youth program to offer youth soccer to some 800 children, that allow pee wee youth baseball, softball, T-ball for her to accommodate the requirements of the parents."
A public-private venture produced a new kennel in 2008.
Construction was completed during FY 2008-09 on a variety of NAF locally-funded Capital Purchase and Minor Construction projects, including three new cabins on American Lake, a Russell Landing CafAfA and Marina renovation, and construction of a splash park and exceptional family member-compatible playground.
A recreational vehicle storage lot, designs for Eagles Pride Golf Course improvements and renovation of the Summit Arena have been completed. Renovation of the YTC Club/Recreation Center recently was finished.
Construction on a new youth ball field and renovation of existing fields are nearly complete.
Army Community Services hired 22 new employees and expanded services including starting an outreach program, established the EFMP respite care program, organized an EFMP summer camp, initiated hire of 44 family readiness support assistants, expanded the New Parent Support Program by nine staff members and expanded the scope of military family life consultants. Fort Lewis ACS began respite child care Tuesday through Friday nights and on Saturdays to support deployments, and hourly child care for families of wounded warriors. Operating hours were expanded at libraries and the auto craft center.
The Army Family Covenant has helped ACS facilitate communications within family readiness groups.
"We've used a lot of AFC resources to provide them with facilities and activities to participate in that will draw the families to FRG meetings," Rees said, "so that they get the information that's necessary (and are not) sitting out there uninformed. That communication chain has really been important to us. We actually pay for child care for family members to attend FRG meetings so that they can get the necessary information and participate and develop those battle buddies with the other spouses while their Soldiers are deployed."
Fort Lewis' commitment even extends to the naming of facilities: Summit Arena is being renamed Army Family Covenant Arena, and the park and playground area behind it is called Army Family Covenant Park. Family readiness groups will soon be able to meet and have food and coffee at AFC Arena.
"If you start at the tip of the spear at what the Army Family Covenant was supposed to do and you work all the way back," Rees said, "every time they look at a resourcing issue they measure it against what their promise was relative to the Army Family Covenant. If it doesn't meet that, they go back and relook it again. What they've done has just been unbelievable."
"The Army is putting the money where they said (it would)," Sporcic said. "The money is to support the families. It's really supporting the families."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.