By Steven Hoover, USAG Benelux Public AffairsNovember 8, 2007
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - U.S. Army Garrison Benelux leaders, family members and host nation employees - before a packed house Nov. 6 in Brunssum, Netherlands - witnessed the signing of the Army Family Covenant, a pledge of support for Army Families.
The ceremony, held in the Joint Force Command Conference Center, included leaders from USAG Schinnen, USAG Brussels and ChiAfA..vres Garrison.
Also attending was Maj. Gen. Daniel A. Hahn, deputy chief of staff for operations at Joint Force Command Brunssum and the senior mission commander for the Benelux.
Col. James P. Drago, commander of USAG Benelux, opened the signing ceremony, describing how Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey have worked to fund new programs and projects and to ensure "we are dedicated to spending the money and giving the resources to families."
"This push for quality of life for Soldiers comes as the war in Iraq enters its fourth year and fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida is set to enter its sixth," Drago said. "The overall intent of this recommitment to the family is to help Soldiers in combat feel more at ease about their loved ones back home. And, by bringing more support to families, it could also help the all-volunteer Army keep our experienced Soldiers."
The covenant symbolizes a $1.4 billion investment in fiscal year 2008 to improve the quality of life for Army Families worldwide, with service leadership working to include a similar level in the budget for the next five years.
Drago added that senior Army leadership realizes that the role of families in a Soldier's decision to stay is so important "that we ought to treat families as a readiness issue, and that while Soldiers may be the strength of the nation, their strength is in their families."
Referring to a quote by Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, who recently visited the Benelux, Drago said: "One of the important factors in retaining good Soldiers is the quality of life; not just for the Soldier, but for the family. And it's more that just a Soldier's pay. It's (the) medical, dental, housing, barracks for the single Soldiers, youth services, education. It's the things we provide for all the families."
Drago illustrated the commitment by describing recent Benelux quality-of-life improvements in each community, such as: the single servicemembers' quarters at ChiAfA..vres Air Base; the renovated Army and Air Force Exchange Service shoppette and dedicated office space for family readiness groups at USAG Brussels; and a renovation of the USAG Schinnen commissary.
He also provided those in attendance a peek at the future, including the adding of two permanent child development centers (in USAGs Schinnen and Brussels) to accommodate an additional 200 child spaces ($16.3 million); the building of a new commissary at ChiAfA..vres Air Base ($17.1 million); construction of a new Army Lodge at ChiAfA..vres Air Base ($16 million).
"We have been lucky in the USAG Benelux footprint over the past three years or so," he said. "While we have not received everything we'd like to have, significant money has flowed our way. Additionally, the future looks good. Each of our installations has significant upgrades planned as part of their master plan."
Following the brief, Drago and Hahn were joined by USAG Benelux Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Ford to sign the Benelux Army Family Covenant. The signing was then repeated with leadership of the subordinate garrisons.