ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 7, 2007) -- Seventy active-duty installations and six Reserve posts have hosted Army Family Covenant signing ceremonies so far and Army leaders point out that the ceremonies are simply visible representations of a much larger and long-term commitment.

The Army Family Covenant was one area of discussion this week as leaders met to look at progress and chart the way ahead for the Army Soldier-Family Action Plan.

The ASFAP is the plan put in place to guide Army leadership in making the Army Family Covenant a reality.

"The Army Family Covenant is the centerpiece, but ASFAP is the tool for making the Covenant a reality" said Barbara Sisson, director of Installation Services for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management.

Senior leaders were briefed on Covenant signing ceremonies, funding status and trends, current successes and quick wins, and the way ahead. Representatives from the Army's Installation Management Command, Office of the Surgeon General, Human Resources Command, and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command briefed the senior Army leaders.

Progress was reported in the areas of child care, serving survivor's Families, reaching out to dispersed Families (those not living on or near a military installation), increasing access to health care, improving housing, providing educational and job opportunities for Soldiers and Family members, and providing for Single Soldiers, among others.

Highlights of the briefing include:

At the garrison level, initial registration fees for child care have been eliminated and hours for both respite care and extended-duty child care have been extended on many installations. Programs for teens and after-school care, including youth sports, have been established or expanded.

To reach out and provide improved support and assistance to survivors of fallen Soldiers, the Army's Long Term Case Management Centers, chaplains, and Army Community Service are partnering with military and civilian community organizations to provide assistance and support to the survivors. The Army also plans to hire as many as 200 mental health care providers to shorten wait times and improve care to Soldiers and their Families.

Geographically dispersed Families are finding a new path to information and resources through the information highway, using the newly established Army Integrated Family Support Network.

The Army has built 10,000 new homes since the implementation of the Residential Communities Initiative, and refurbished 10,000 more. That effort is still underway, and plans are in place to make additional housing accessible to wounded warriors.

Progress is also being made improving educational and employment opportunities through the Army Spouse Employment Program, the Army Continuing Education System, Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, and the ability to transfer GI Bill education accounts to spouses of those entering hard-to-fill military occupational specialties.

And in keeping with the promise to care for the entire Army Family, the leadership was also briefed on the addition of 54 positions to the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, and the availability of $10,000 in grants to enhance BOSS programs at the garrison level.

"The senior leadership was impressed and pleased," said Dennis Bohannan, Chief of Strategic Communications for the ACSIM, "but they made it clear they expect the progress to continue."

"What we're doing here is not a flash in the pan," Army Secretary Pete Geren emphasized during the briefing. "We're making real and lasting changes."

(Bill Bradner serves with FMWRC Public Affairs.)