Secretary of the Army Mr. Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey put Army Families center stage Oct. 8 in speeches at the Association of the United States Army convention. To renew their commitment to Army Families, Mr. Geren and Gen. Casey introduced The Army Family Covenant.

Mr. Geren, who spoke to a convention-center-size audience of Soldiers, Army Civilians, and Family members, said the Army is "taxing our Soldiers and Families at unprecedented levels" and that they deserve a "quality of life equal to their quality of service." "We are well into an era of persistent conflict in which the United States Soldier is - and will be - a decisive actor," he said.

Mr. Geren said the Army Family, with more than two million Soldiers, spouses and children, is "shouldering the load for 300 million Americans," and that the health of the all-volunteer force depends on "the health of the Army Family."

The Army Family Covenant states:
-- We recognize the commitment and increasing sacrifices that our Families are making every day.
-- We recognize the strength of our Soldiers comes from the strength of their Families.
-- We are committed to providing Soldiers and Families a Quality of Life that is commensurate with their service.
-- We are committed to providing our Families a strong, supportive environment where they can thrive.
-- We are committed to building a partnership with Army Families that enhances their strength and resilience.
-- We are committed to building a partnership with Army Families that enhances their strength and resilience.
-- We are committed to improving Family Readiness by:
* Standardizing and funding existing Family programs and services
* Increasing accessibility and quality of health care
* Improving Soldier and Family Housing
* Ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and child care
* Expanding education and employment opportunities for Family members

"We need to improve the manner in which we sustain the Army's Soldiers, Civilians and their Families," Gen. Casey said. "We recognize that they [the Army Family] play an increasing role in the readiness of this all-volunteer force." Gen. Casey said the Army asked Soldiers and Families about Family support. "It seems we were told to forget creating a lot of new programs, just fund the ones you have," he said. "We took that to heart which can be seen in many of our expanded childcare and respite programs."

In addition, the Army Staff took on 21 support initiatives that provide assistance to Families and reviewed a number of programs, policies, procedures and activities that could have a definite impact. Changes have already been implemented in health care, Family programs, housing, education and employment opportunities for Soldiers and Families. This dynamic effort is called the Army Soldier Family Action Plan (ASFAP).

As part of the plan, the Army funded 1,100 additional Family Readiness Support Assistants to support Families during mobilization, deployment and redeployment.

The Army also implemented an Army Integrated Family Support Network to links Soldiers and Families in distant locations to the services and programs traditionally found on Army installations. These services include pre-deployment support, Tri-Care information and child and youth resource referrals. The network has been developed specifically with geographically dispersed Soldiers and their Families in mind, in both the active and reserve components. Full implementation is expected in 2008.

The Army extended child care operating hours and reduced service fees as well as enhanced youth services and educational opportunities on and off Army installations. Also, the Army has grown its respite care and Army Community service support capacity.

The Residential Communities Initiative (RCI), a program launched in 1996, was designed to improve installation housing through a public-private partnership. So far, this partnership The Army's Family--500,000 spouses and 700,000 children resulted in 10,000 new and 10,000 refurbished houses across Army installations.


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