By Mr. Robert H Mcelroy (IMCOM)May 3, 2010
CHIEVRES, Belgium - USAG Benelux is amplifying the Army Family Covenant program by using more than dollars to boost support to Army families.
In 2007, the Army devoted $1.4 billion to launch a program the Chief of Staff of the Army said was necessary to provide a quality of life commensurate with the service of Soldiers and their families, but the Army Family Covenant is not based solely on funding.
It is a promise that the Army will continue to recognize the increasing sacrifices families make. It's a promise to recognize that the strength of a Soldier comes from the strength of his or her family.
That promise is upheld at USAG Benelux, and Penny Gaffney, the Benelux Army Community Services director, said the Benelux can continue to meet AFC's goals without new financial resources.
"We don't need to be dependent on new money," she said. "We have lots of talent that we need to use."
The initial Army Family Covenant money was used at ACS to properly staff programs across the Benelux, to train master trainers and to develop curricula for standardized programs.
"Now we're just implementing it all," said Gaffney.
The ACS office at SHAPE has three core trainers who can teach and certify master trainers and they have nine additional master trainers who are certified to teach instructor training, briefer training and facilitator training courses to staff members and volunteers.
"Our master trainers are from all over," said Gaffney. "We have some active duty Air Force folks, Air Force and Army family members and we also have staff that have been trained to do this."
In April, four people, including one student, graduated from the instructor training course thanks to the certified master trainers.
With the new trainers and standardized curricula, Gaffney's team is now focusing on outreach.
"We're reaching family members instead of waiting for them to come to us, and we're reaching Soldiers at the units so we can talk to them about financial readiness. We can talk to them about deployment readiness. We can talk about parenting skills and things like that, and because we're a one-deep operation, this gives us a cadre of people that can go out and do that," she said.
USAG Schinnen has also benefited from newly funded permanent positions.
"ACS is about helping the Army community achieve and sustain a healthy and nurturing environment, despite enduring hardships; AFC provides the staff and resources for ACS to successfully complete its mission," said Jill O'Brien, USAG Schinnen ACS officer.
At USAG Schinnen, the Army Family Covenant funded an Exceptional Family Member Program manager, a Mobilization and Deployment/Survival Outreach Services Program manager, an Army Family Team Building/Army Family Action Plan manager and a Family Advocacy Program Educator/Sexual Assault Response coordinator.
Anne Daugherty, the USAG Schinnen ACS Deployment Readiness manager, has led two deployment support groups, Hearts Apart, Jr. and Teen Hearts Apart at the DoDDs school to children ages 4 to 18. She also provides training and support for Soldier and Family Readiness Groups in the garrison area of responsibility and serves as a liaison between military units and the garrison.
"Families are pleasantly surprised at all the services and benefits they receive during deployments," said Daugherty. "The benefits are ever changing, and it's nice to be able to offer Soldiers and families a variety of great childcare, sports and recreational discounts in our community.
"They've had to continue with deployments, and they feel more supported knowing that the Army is looking out for their families today and in the future," she said.
One area that will continue to receive needed AFC funding is Child, Youth and School Services. Through the covenant, CYSS registration fees have been eliminated and program fees have been reduced for families.
"The SKIES classes provided my children with something special to look forward to during my husband's deployment," said Lisa Weaver, an Army spouse. "Having that special class each week helped make the time away from their father pass more quickly. We were very pleased with the course and with the staff who worked each week to ensure our children had a wonderful time."
There are also programs that are part of the covenant that have never received AFC funding. AFC focuses on seven areas: Family Programs and Services; Health Care, Soldier and Family Housing; Child, Youth and School Services; Education; Careers and Libraries; Recreation, Travel and BOSS; and Communities and Marketplace.
Services provided by the Benelux Chaplain's Office fall under the Family Programs and Services category.
Chaplain (Maj.) Rory Rodriquez said although they don't receive AFC funding, their mission is to support Soldiers and their families, and they do so through a variety of programs separate from routine chapel services.
They led eight marriage retreats last year, and they are planning more for 2010. They also hold other events like prayer breakfasts for the entire community and share words of spiritual encouragement through local publications.
The Army, IMCOM and the Benelux remain committed to the AFC promise through both funding and action.
The 2010 Army Posture Statement budget addendum requests an increase in operational and maintenance funding for fiscal year 2011 that will go, in part, to AFC services, and the posture lists AFC as one of the Army's top four sustainment goals.
At IMCOM, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch's new campaign plan places the highest priority on AFC.
"I am committed to the AFC promise and associated programs designed to mitigate the stress associated with military life and eight years of persistent conflict," the commanding general states in his plan. "Through the covenant, we will strive to provide consistent high quality services to meet the diverse needs of single Soldiers and Soldiers with families; improve housing; expand educational and entertainment options; ensure excellence in schools, youth services and child care; and expand education, recreation and employment opportunities."