By Elizabeth M. LorgeOctober 8, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 8, 2007) - The Army is committed to building and maintaining strong Families, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. today during the first Family Forum of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting.
Gen. Casey discussed the new Army Family Covenant, unveiled during AUSA's opening ceremony, and the importance of Families in building and maintaining the force.
"I saw what we were asking of our Soldiers and our Families over the last several years," he said. "It struck me that the best wasn't good enough. We have not, until this point, treated Families as the readiness issue that they are.
"We recognize what it takes to be an Army Family, and that our Soldiers draw great strength from their Families. The welfare of Army Families is increasingly important to all of us," he said, adding that the Army was committed to building a partnership with Families.
The Army Family Covenant says that Soldiers' strength comes from their Families. It pledges to provide for and support those Families, increase the accessibility and quality of healthcare, improve Soldier and Family housing and standardize and fund Family programs and services.
The covenant also says the Army will ensure excellence in schools, youth services and childcare, and expand education and employment opportunities for Family members.
All of these are important issues for Family members, said Sheila Casey, Gen. Casey's wife. She has travelled around the world with the general and spoken to hundreds of Family members and Family readiness leaders about what they need and are experiencing.
"Spouses are definitely feeling the strain and effects of six years of war. They're stressed and they're stretched but they still are amazingly resilient," she said.
Gen. Casey said that the improvements will take time, but that the Army plans to continue the increased Family support after operations end in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of special concern are Army Reserve and National Guard Families who are geographically disparate and don't have the support and benefit access available on an installation.
"Every Family in America ought to have the same level of support that you would have if you lived near an installation," said Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, Jr., chief of the Army Reserve. "We've got to do this. We've got to figure out a way to make sure our Families are taken care of because I need my Soldiers focused on their mission, not worried about their Families. When they lose focus, they may cost someone their lives."
One way to reach far-flung Families is via the online community. Lt. Gen. Stultz credits his wife, Lauralyn Stultz, as the force behind the 'virtual-installations' idea, online repositories of information on benefits, support groups and other information.
The idea is largely conceptual, but the Reserve and National Guard have signed memorandums of agreement with installations, the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans-service organizations and other groups to provide resources for Soldiers and their Families and are working to garner more support.
"You lose the Family, you lose the Soldier," said Mrs. Casey.