By Anna Staatz, Jeanne Melton and Beth LorgeNovember 1, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 2, 2007) - Leaders at Army installations across the country joined the Army's top brass this week in pledging to support and honor Families as Soldiers continue the fight in the war on terrorism.
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. signed the official Army Family Covenant Oct. 17 at Fort Knox, Ky. They added their signatures again Tuesday in West Point, N.Y., as signings took place from Fort Riley, Kan., to Fort Eustis, Va.
The covenant represents a $1.4 billion commitment to improve the quality of life for Army Families. It formally recognizes the sacrifices made on the home front while the Army is at war and pledges to standardize funding for existing Family programs and services, increase the accessibility and quality of health care, improve Soldier and Family housing, ensure excellence in schools, youth services and child care, and expand education and employment opportunities for Family members.
"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 on Oct. 17. "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."
Gen. Charles Campbell, commanding general of U.S. Forces Command, was on hand for the Fort Riley signing Monday. He said Family support systems designed pre-Sept. 11, 2001, were no longer adequate for an Army in a sustained war.
"Our Army is the strength of our nation," he said. "And the strength of our Army depends on the strength of the Army Family. We must incorporate the lessons learned from six years on the home front in supporting our Families. Their challenges have grown significantly. Our support of Army Families must adapt to this new normal."
Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, said the word "covenant" brought a much more significant meaning to the signing than the word "promise" conveyed.
"This covenant and the initiatives within this covenant that the Army has put forth show that we, in fact, have changed," Maj. Gen. Durbin said. "We are an Army at war and we are no longer an Army training for war. The demands and stresses placed on our Soldiers and Families are worthy of this covenant."
Brig. Gen. James E. Chambers, commanding general and commandant of the Transportation Center and School and Fort Eustis, asked the community to tell him what services aren't being provided and what needs to be improved during the Fort Eustis signing Monday, and said he asked his staff to come up with some quick wins to offer the community as near-term objectives.
He offered four suggestions and said more will be done in the future: free installation shuttle service, free Saturday matinee movies for children and free evening movies for adults, free outdoor pool access for Soldiers and their Families in the summer and increased organized sports leagues for children.
At Fort Benning, Ga., an Army Family Covenant signing Wednesday included a preview of the new post exchange before it opens later in November. Initiatives to improve the quality of life under the covenant at Fort Benning include: increasing the number of free child care hours for spouses of deployed Soldiers, waiving registration fees for youth sports programs, building new on-post child care centers, building new Soldier barracks, and more.
(Anna Staatz writes for the Fort Riley Post and Jeanne Melton is assistant editor of the Fort Eustis Wheel. A Fort Benning news release also contributed to this article.)