FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, Oct. 17, 2007) - Senior leaders signed the Army Family Covenant today and pledged to support Soldiers' Families while they defend the nation.Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston signed the covenant in a ceremony at the Fort Knox Community Center.Gen. Casey said similar signings will occur at each Army installation, recognizing that while Soldiers may be the strength of the nation, their strength is in their Families."The health of our all-volunteer force, our Soldier-volunteers, our Family-volunteers, depends on the health of the Family. The readiness of our all-volunteer force depends on the health of the Families," said Mr. Geren. "I can assure you that your Army leadership understands the important contribution each and every one of you makes. We need to make sure we step up and provide the support Families need so the Army Family stays healthy and ready."Mr. Geren noted that the Army, entering its seventh year of conflict in Afghanistan, is in its third longest war, and longest with an all-volunteer force, after the Revolution. This brings unique and unexpected stressors, he said."It was immediately clear to us that the Families were the most stretched, and as a result, the most stressed, part of the force, and that what we were asking those families was a quantum different than anything I expected we would ask," Gen. Casey 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," he said last week when he announced the covenant during the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting.Gen. Casey said the Army wants to provide Soldiers and their Families with a level of support commensurate with their level of service, and the covenant is in direct response to concerns from Army Families. They are concerned about funding and support for Family programs, physical and mental healthcare, housing, education and childcare and employment opportunities for spouses.While Gen. Casey admitted last week that in the past the Army could have supported Families better, he did point out that things have improved dramatically in his 59 years as an Army son, officer and father. The covenant represents a $1.4 billion commitment in 2008 to improve quality of life for Army Families. He said Army leadership is working to include a similar level in the budget for the next five years.In the last two to three years alone, the Army has privatized and improved almost 80,000 homes on 36 installations and opened 40 new childcare centers, with another 22 on the way. The Army also recently spent $50 million to hire new healthcare providers for Soldiers and their Families, and is working with lawmakers to help Army spouses gain priority for civil service jobs. There are also now Family Readiness Support Assistants at the battalion level.When you're talking about what keeps Soldiers in the Army, said SMA Preston, one of the important factors is the quality of life, "not just for the Soldier, but for the Family. And it's more than just a Soldier's pay, it's medical, dental, housing, barracks for the single Soldiers, youth services, education, it's the things we provide for all the Families."On hand to witness the signing were four Army Families: the Browns, the Lights, the Roberts and the Linders. The Army Family Covenant just confirms what she already knew, said Kathryn Light. "Being an Army spouse, I was taken care of during two deployments to Iraq, almost back-to-back. I actually served as a Family Readiness Assistant with one of the programs .... I'm a proud Army spouse.""It was such a weight lifted off my shoulders to know my Family was taken care of; sometimes I would joke to her that I had the easy part," said Sgt. 1st Class James Light, with the Fort Knox Headquarters Company. He added that the care the Army gave his Family helped him decide to re-enlist.<b>The Army Family Covenant</b>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 improving Family readiness by:Aca,!Ac Standardizing and funding existing Family programs and servicesAca,!Ac Increasing accessibility and quality of healthcareAca,!Ac Improving Soldier and Family housingAca,!Ac Ensuring excellence in schools, youth services, and child careAca,!Ac Expanding education and employment opportunities for Family members