A Fort Bragg Army Family covenant signing ceremony, was held Nov. 20, 10 a.m., at the Casablanca Community Center., where Fort Bragg leadership pledged to support and honor Families as Soldiers continue to fight the Global War on Terrorism.

This event followed the signing of the official Army Family Covenant Oct. 17 at Fort Knox, Ky., by the Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey, Jr.

Since then, Fort Bragg has joined other Army installations across the country in sending a powerful message that taking care of Families is a priority readiness issue.

More than 100 Soldiers, Family members, representatives of North Carolina's U.S. and state legislatures and local communities were present to witness the signing.

The covenant was signed by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander XVIII Airborne Corps and Col. David G. Fox, Fort Bragg's garrison commander and their respective command sergeant majors: Joseph R. Allen, the XVIII Airborne Corps command sergeant major and Robin D. Sheehan, Fort Bragg's garrison command sergeant major.

The Army covenant represents a $1.4 billion commitment in 2008 focused on improving quality of life for Army Families, by standardizing funding for existing Family programs and services, increasing the accessibility and quality of health care, improving Soldier and Family housing, ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and childcare, and expanding education and employment opportunities for Family members.

The Honorable Bob Etheridge, U.S. Representative for the 2nd district of North Carolina made a special appearance at the event where he had high praises for Fort Bragg for their efforts in taking a leadership role on quality of life.

"That is typical of Fort Bragg leadership (taking a leading role to make a difference in the lives of Soldiers and Families)," said Etheridge. "Historically, Fort Bragg has been a leader for the Army and has been doing it for a number of years," he said.

Fox agreed and added that, "The Army recognizes the strength of our Soldiers comes from the strength of their Families. This covenant signing ceremony serves as our commitment to the Families and the Soldiers that we will provide a quality of life that equals their service to our nation."

Fox said Fort Bragg Soldiers and Families are fortunate to have Austin as their commanding general because Austin understands from numerous command experiences the sacrifices Fort Bragg Soldiers and their Families make in order to keep this country safe and free.

In his opening remarks Austin welcomed and thanked those in attendance for their continued support. "...Thanks for joining us today in what I believe is going to be a wonderful event," said Austin. "And that is the signing of the Army Family Covenant which symbolizes an Army-wide commitment to our Families. The secretary of the Army and the chief of staff of the Army have been clear about the priority of taking care of our Families. It is indeed job one."

He thanked the Fort Bragg directorates, agencies, support services and civilian employees for interacting daily with Families to make their lives better and for being the unsung heroes standing behind the scenes to get the job done.

"You do not do it for the expectation of recognition or fanfare, you do it because you love what you do and most importantly, you do it because you love the people that you serve," said Austin. "So, thanks for everything."

Commenting on the seventh year of continuous combat where many Soldiers have served three or four deployments, Austin said it is a readiness issue to care for Soldiers' Families while they are serving in harms way.

"It is no secret to anyone that we enlist Soldiers, but we reenlist Families," said Austin. "And we want to keep our great Families on our team, because you have demonstrated that you are special. So, the Army Family Covenant signing is a start point and will help us to focus our efforts as we continue to care for our Families."

According to Austin, the covenant promises to provide a strong supportive environment where Families can thrive. He said it is a pledge that should give Families the peace of mind that the leadership is committed to providing the highest quality of life possible. He also said it is a pledge that will help to reduce some stress that deployments have placed on Families. Lastly, he said the covenant would create an environment where Soldiers and their Families know they will receive the best care, support and services possible.

"But, you know, taking care of Families is not new to Fort Bragg..." said Austin. "Fort Bragg has a long and proud history of providing the best care for our Families. Year in and year out, Fort Bragg has been recognized by the Army for its outstanding Family support programs."

Although Austin said Fort Bragg leads the Army in many areas such as being recognized for the best Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, and recognized for having an outstanding after school and youth programs, he said they will strive to do better.

Already, Fort Bragg is making progress and taking steps to improve quality of life. For instance, this year, 54 battalion-level Family readiness support assistants have been hired to help support Family readiness group leaders and to ease some administrative requirements. Child care center hours have been expanded from 55 hours per week up to 80 hours as well as expanded hourly care/respite child care. Army Community Service Center manpower support has been increased and youth programs have been expanded in efforts to reduce deployment stress.

More than 800 new homes have been built and 1,300 other homes have been renovated through the residential communities initiatives program and through partnership with Picerne.

The Warrior Transition Unit was also stood up, consolidating medical hold units for active, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, and the establishment of one-stop Soldier and Family assistance centers.

Austin said the Army is working a legislative package designed to improve some education and employment opportunities for Family members. He said military construction projects would continue with Fort Bragg spending more than $1.9 billion dollars now through fiscal year 2011. Austin said they would also continue to build and renovate housing.

"So, what you will see over the coming year is increased funding for existing Family programs and services, increased accessibility and quality of health care, improved Soldier and Family housing, excellence in schools and youth services, and expanded education and employment opportunities for our Family members," said Austin.

Austin said they have already made good progress in caring for Families and will continue to work hard to do more while remaining focused.

"Fort Bragg will continue to work our Family issues hard and we fully understand our working efforts do not end at the conclusion of this ceremony," he said. "Ultimately, the measure of our success will be based upon our deeds and not our words."

Despite tremendous personal challenges, Austin said Fort Bragg Families maintain everyday life on post by volunteering their time, their talents and their efforts in making life better for Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities.

In closing, Austin said, "And so, we pledge to do all that we can to provide you with the very best care, the very best support, and the very best services possible commensurate with your service."

"So, that's what this represents today..." said Etheridge. "... An investment of the American people in our own best interest."

Staff Sgt. Rochelle Peters, an operating room technician from Womack Army Medical Center, and Family member was also in attendance for the covenant signing ceremony.

"It was nice to see that the general and leaders of Fort Bragg were actually taking the Family members and housing and stuff seriously, because a lot of posts (where you serve) you do not get that," she said. "It was nice to see the garrison command and especially Lieutenant General Austin and his wife out here supporting us and talking about the Family members."