WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 20, 2007) - With more than 140,000 Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, "we can never take our eye off the ball," the Army secretary designate told a Senate committee yesterday, but he also reaffirmed that taking care of Soldiers and Families remains his top priority.

Pete Geren, acting secretary of the Army since March, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he's committed to being an advocate for the men and women in uniform and the Families who stand by them and to "make sure their voices are heard."

"I've watched Soldiers, sailors and airmen go off to war, and I've watched the Families stand steadfast and unwavering in their support of their departed loved ones and live with the uncertainty of whether he or she would return home," he said.

The certainty they live with, he said, is knowing that they'll miss celebrating birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations and other important events as a Family, as well as the regular ups and downs of everyday life.

It was difficult when deployments were 12 months, he said, and even more so with extensions to 15 months.

Mr. Geren said he's too often watched Families live with the loss of their loved one who didn't return.

"I've been inspired by the selfless service of our Soldiers and humbled by the sacrifice in their Families," he said.

The country "cannot do enough" to support these troops and their Families, Mr. Geren said, and he promised to continue working on their behalf as Army secretary.

"When I came before you seeking confirmation as undersecretary of the Army (in February 2006), I told you my top priority would be taking care of Soldiers and their Families," he told the committee. "I reaffirm that commitment today with a greater understanding of that responsibility."

Part of that promise, he said, means ensuring troops get the training, equipment and leadership they need to wage the war on terror and defend themselves.

"They count on their Army leadership back home to move the bureaucracy on the home front," he said. "They count on their secretary and their chief to stand up for them, get them what they need when they need it.

"We must act with urgency every day to meet their needs," he said.

That's particularly important, he said, at a time when "we must expect that our future offers an era of persistent conflict."

"We will continue to ask much of the Army Family," he said, noting that more than half of all Soldiers are married, and more than 700,000 children have Soldier parents.

"We must meet the needs of our Families - provide them with a quality of life comparable to the quality of their service and sacrifice," he said. "It's the right thing to do, and the future of our all-volunteer force depends on it."

(Donna Miles writes for the American Forces Press Service.)