Secretary of the Army Pete Geren
Army Community Covenant
Fort Benning, GA
April 17, 2008


It really is a privilege to be here and share this great occasion with our soldiers, with their families, and with the citizens of Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia. Mayor Wetherington, Mayor Hardin, thank you all so much for your great leadership and your service. And through you, we want your community to know how much it means to the Soldiers and their families, all the things you do. Major General Wojdakowski, Mrs. Wojdakowski, it\'s great for you to be here and bring your son, who's heading out this afternoon. We wish him God speed. And Sergeant Major of the Army Ken Preston, it's great to have you here. Command Sergeant Major Ulibarri, thank you for your outstanding service. Lieutenant General Vaughn and Guardsmen that are here, thank you for your great work at this critical time in our Nation's history. And to the Soldiers and families that are here, it was wonderful to have these children here to join us and entertain us with that beautiful rendition of "God Bless America." So much of this Community Covenant is all about those young people and the quality of life that they live, and the quality of life that the people of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City offer to them.

Next week the 3rd Brigade starts coming home and our thoughts and our prayers are with them and their families, and with the loved ones who have lost Soldiers in service to our country in the Global War on Terror. The 3rd Brigade has certainly paid a heavy price for the cause of freedom and our prayers are certainly with those families who have lost loved ones, and whose loved ones are returning wounded and injured. God bless them and our prayers are certainly with all of them.

We're here to sign this Community Covenant, a Community Covenant that reflects this bond that exists between this community and this Army installation. It goes back 90 years, and it's truly an affair of the heart. Mayor Hardin mentioned the economic impact and certainly that's significant, and it's going to grow even more significant over the next few years there's going be over $2 billion worth of construction here and over 30,000 more folks are going to be moving into this great, hospitable community. But the bond between this community and their Soldiers and their families is an affair of the heart.

You look back over these 90 years that Fort Benning has been here and you think back over the history of our Nation over those 90 years, and this has been a great partnership. It has been a partnership that has stood the test of time, and it has been a partnership that has been there through thick and thin. And there have been some thin times in some other parts of the country. There have been times in other parts of the country where communities have pulled back from the bases, pulled back from their embrace of Soldiers. That never happened here. In the toughest times, in the Vietnam era, when many communities turned their back on the military, this one stood with the military. And it's something that is appreciated, deeply appreciated by all the men and women who have served and their families who have served with them.

So we're here today, and when we sign this covenant, probably more than anything else just to say thank you. Thank you so much for being a full partner in the lives of these men and women who do so much, who are willing to give it all for our country, like so many have. And your community has always been there. We're also signing this Community Covenant, and we're looking across the country to all the many things that our communities do for our Soldiers. Here you have some wonderful programs. The God Bless Fort Benning, which touches the lives every single Soldier and family member here, and people all across the Chattahoochee Valley come and reach out to Soldiers. And the TAPS program that Shelly Hall is going to come and talk about that she started. The House of Heroes, Partnership in Education, and in so many other ways where individuals touch the lives of other individuals. Neighbors helping neighbors. And we want to learn from Fort Benning and take those lessons to help folks in other parts of the country learn from the things that you do. And also look elsewhere to see if other people have programs that people here might want to embrace, or people at Fort Sill might want to embrace, or people at Fort Hood might want to embrace. It'll be a look across our entire country at all the wonderful things that Soldiers and families receive from their communities and shine a light on them, and thank those communities, and help the many, many Americans who want to do more-to give them some ideas. Look at what states do. We're so thankful that states like Georgia and Alabama provide in-state tuition for the dependents of Soldiers, children and spouses. Not every state does that. Most do now. Most have decided to do it lately. But we thank Georgia and Alabama for offering that very important, critcal benefit to the children of our military.

I also want to thank the Congressional delegation. There are many issues that divide our Congress and divide our country. But I can tell you, when it comes to Alabama and comes to Georgia delegations, they come together when you're talking about the United States Army, when you're talking about the United States military. Senators Chambliss and Isakson, Senators Sessions and Shelby, Congressman Bishop, Congressman Westmoreland, Congressman Rogers, we thank them so much for being there for Soldiers in our United States Army, being there for families and standing with our country at this very difficult time. We appreciate all they do.

Why is it important that we do this now' Well, it's never too soon to just say thank you for all the wonderful things that you all do for Soldiers and families. But it is a critical time in our Nation's history. We are-and Soldiers and family members know it in ways I could never understand-we are a Nation long at war. Seven years in Afghanistan, and last March, last month we passed the five year mark in Iraq. This is the third longest war in our Nation's history. The third longest war in our Nation's history after the Revolutionary War and after Vietnam.

It's the longest war we have ever fought with an all-volunteer force. Every Soldier in this Army is a volunteer. Family members are volunteers too. An all-volunteer force. And we are in unchartered waters when it comes to fighting an extended conflict with an all-volunteer force. That's why it's so important for communities to step up and do what Fort Benning does, love their Soldiers and love their families, and embrace them.

We have over half of our Soldiers today who are married, and that's a big change from not very long ago. That's over 500,000 spouses. And in those families there are over 700,000 children. 700,000 children in Army families. And when a Soldier deploys-a married Soldier deploys-he or she leaves behind a single parent household and all the challenges associated with that family dynamic. When a single parent deploys, he or she leaves those children in the care of others. And that's why it's so important for neighbors to help neighbors, to step up and help through those tough times. It might be raking leaves in the fall, and it might be-well, not down here but in other parts of the world-it might be shoveling snow in the winter. It might be babysitting. It might be loaning a car. It might be fixing a car. Neighbors helping neighbors is so important now as we continue in this war that we find ourselves in as a country. And our Soldiers are out in the frontlines defending us, fighting, and giving it all for the cause of freedom.

This is a critical time in our Nation's history. And has always been the case, for 232 years, young men and women have stepped up and gone where duty called. And we are blessed as a country. God has blesses us with these for these great Soldiers. God has blessed us with these great family members who stand with them. These Soldiers are willing to go wherever duty calls.

So we're here today to say thank you to those Soldiers, here today to say thank you to those families, and we're here to reaffirm and recommit our support for those Soldiers and their families. And to learn from other communities, and have other communities learn from yours and figure out what more we can do to support those families and their loved ones.

In World War II, Winston Churchill observed on the efforts of the Airmen who fought for Great Britain against the German-a handful of Airmen against a massive German Air Force. And he said seldom in the course of human events have so many owed so much to so few. Well in our Armed Forces today in America, less than one percent of our population wears the uniform. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. 2.4 million wear the uniform out of 300 million Americans. Well today is one of those times in history where so many owe so much to so few.

This Community Covenant is our effort for the many of us to do everything we can do for those few and their loved ones who stand with them at this critical time in our Nation's history. God Bless the United States Army and these Soldiers that fight for our freedoms. And Gold Bless their families. And God Bless these communities that are full partners in this great effort.

Thank you very much.