By Karl Weisel, USAG Hessen Public AffairsNovember 5, 2007
HANAU, Germany - Army leaders, family members and host nation officials joined together to pledge their support of Army Families while signing the Army Family Covenant in Wiesbaden Oct. 30.
The ceremony, which included community youths, Family Readiness Group leaders and senior military and civilian leaders from around the command, underscored the Army's commitment to caring for its families.
"Throughout the Army there are ceremonies going on like the (one) we're having today to focus specifically on renewing the Army's commitment to taking care of families," said Col. Ray Graham, commander of U.S. Army garrisons Hessen and Wiesbaden.
Graham described how Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. have worked to fund new programs and projects and to ensure "we are dedicated to spending the money and giving the resources to families."
"Quality of life is not only taking care of Soldiers and their families, it's a readiness thing; it's a retention thing," Graham said. "If you lose those families, you've lost those Soldiers. ... You want to give them what they deserve. That's why we're here today. This is symbolic of the Army's ongoing efforts."
The colonel illustrated the service's commitment by describing the $1.4 billion investment in 2008 aimed at improving the quality of life for Army Families. Out of millions of dollars already spent - and with more slated to enhance the community - Soldiers and families already enjoy a wide range of benefits such as discounted child care fees for families of deployed Soldiers and increased respite care hours. They will see a host of similar improvements such as Youth Services Center and School-Age Services renovations, exchange upgrades, commissary enhancements, housing and school renovations.
Families have also benefited from newly funded programs such as Warrior Transition Units, youth program expansion to reduce deployment stress and having full-time family readiness support assistants in units down to the battalion level, Graham said. "This is an ongoing commitment and an ongoing effort to make sure that we do the right things to take care of Soldiers and their families."
With more than 40 percent of Soldiers in Europe forward deployed in harm's way, recognizing the sacrifice of families in their European home away from home is a critical part of recognizing that "Army Family Strong equals Army Strong," Graham said.
Looking down the road, Graham talked about future plans to provide new and improved facilities at Wiesbaden High School, construction and renovation of family housing and barracks, and construction of a new commissary and an Army and Air Force Exchange mega mall in Wiesbaden.
But it's more than just the Army that is committed to ensuring families are taken care of while their Soldiers serve in harm's way. So, too, have garrison neighbors. City and state officials have pledged to do what they can to help, the colonel noted. "We're really staying engaged with our host nation partners. ... The mayor is committed to us, as well as members of parliament on taking care of families while Soldiers are serving downrange."
For example, the city of Wiesbaden has invited 1,000 U.S. family members and Soldiers to enjoy a free dance comedy at the Wiesbaden State Theater during the holiday season. Other upcoming German-American events include caroling at Mainz City Hall and an annual tea hosted by Hessen Minister President Roland Koch for Army Families.
Sue Hertling, senior 1st Armored Division spouse and wife of division commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, praised the Army's focus on families during her remarks at the ceremony. "There's one statement in particular that resonates most deeply with me," she said. "It's the second statement in the covenant; it says, 'We recognize the strength of our Soldiers comes from the strength of our families.'"
"I am in absolute awe of our Army Families," she added, pointing out that military families today are especially challenged with the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.
Describing several spouses and children who have inspired her with their upbeat attitudes and about military life and dedication, Hertling said the Army Family Covenant reinforces the fact that "we are not in this alone."
"The garrison is truly dedicated to taking care of families," added Graham. "Our job and our mission is taking care of families."