By Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management CommandJuly 29, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. - Our Soldiers have been steadfast in their service to the nation during the past nine years of conflict. Their Families have been just as constant in their own dedicated service, providing the strength and support that enables Soldiers to do their jobs. Our Soldiers and Families persevere in their service to the nation in the face of repeated deployments and even greater challenges.
It is heartening to know that we are not in this alone - our fellow citizens want to understand what we are experiencing and share a deep desire to support us where they can. Sometimes they simply do not know where to begin or how to make the connection to channel their appreciation and support into action. That is why reaching out to the communities around us is so vitally important.
The Army has a long history of supportive relationships with surrounding communities. San Antonio, Texas, claims the title of Military City, USA, but many more communities could lay equal claim; their ties with the installations in their areas being as long-standing and deep-rooted. Over the years the Army has also developed strong relationships with local, state and national organizations that provide a wide range of support for Soldiers and Families, including programs focused on health care, education, child development, employment, financial aid, and morale and recreation.
Now those relationships are more critical than ever. The Army cannot always offer the most comprehensive assistance for the number and kinds of challenges that our Soldiers and Families face. This is especially true for National Guard, active Reserve and Active Component Soldiers and Families who live far from installations. The great need for support and the great demand on our resources require us to reach out to those who can help us keep our promise to Soldiers and Families.
A volunteer, a local service provider or a state or national organization may be able to offer expertise, material assistance, support services, or even just human contact that fills a critical need, especially for the Soldier or Family member who is not near an installation.
The support that communities and organizations give to Soldiers and Families has become so important that the Army Community Covenant was launched in April 2008 to formalize and facilitate the relationships. To date, communities in 49 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have conducted more than 500 covenant signing ceremonies, pledging to find ways to enhance the quality of life for Soldiers and Families.
These ceremonies publicly recognize and celebrate the communities' commitments, but they are not an end in themselves. They are an important step in taking action to link support to specific Soldier and Family needs. The crucial first step is building relationships.
Effective community outreach is broader than a covenant. It begins with building strong, real relationships. Americans are inspired to offer their support when they learn more about military life and gain a deeper understanding of the personal challenges that Soldiers and Families experience. It is crucial that Army leaders make every effort to get to know local leaders, to attend town halls, Chamber of Commerce meetings and other events, and to invite local leaders and community members to attend events on post. Army leaders must be prepared to answer when local leaders ask, "How can we help'" Americans are generous and compassionate - if you let them know how they can help, they will.
I know from firsthand experience what the power of community support can do for Soldiers and their Families. One recent example is when I was the III Corps and Fort Hood commander and worked to establish a Resiliency Campus, which gathers in one area a number of programs to support Soldiers' and Families' mental, spiritual and physical well-being. As senior commander I was able to dedicate the space on post and ensure that infrastructure improvements were made, but it was the embrace of the community outside the gate, their contributions of materials, services and expertise, that made the campus a reality.
We have several valuable resources to help Soldiers and Families locate and access programs and services available to them. Army One Source, at www.myarmyonesource.com, is a single portal for information on a wide range of services, including housing, healthcare, employment, education, childcare and Family services. AOS includes information on how to contact the nearest Army community support coordinator. Community support coordinators work to make connections between local resources and Soldiers and Families, especially for those who live far from an installation.
The Army Community Covenant website, at www.army.mil/community, has information on more than 600 national, state and local programs that offer education, employment, family, financial, survivor, wounded warrior and other kinds of support. The website regularly adds information on new programs as we continue to build relationships with local, state and national organizations. The site also has ideas and resources for Army leaders to reach out to the communities around them, and for community members and organizations who want to offer support.
All of these resources - the Army Community Covenant resources, the community support coordinators, the advice and ideas of fellow leaders posted on www.garrisoncommand.com, and the expertise of professionals on installations - help Army leaders build and strengthen relationships with communities and find innovative ways to take care of Soldiers and Families.
We have become more effective at our community outreach efforts in recent years, but our efforts meet with such success because our communities are eager to meet us halfway. They readily and generously express their gratitude and support for our Soldiers and Families. Our challenge is to meet them all the way, to clearly communicate our needs and facilitate their support for us. The support and contributions from our communities will enable us to keep our promise to provide Soldiers and Families a quality of life commensurate with their service.