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ARLINGTON, Va. — With no end in sight to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has decided to allocate $1.4 billion to develop a new family action plan to support its half-million Army spouses and 700,000 Army kids in fiscal 2008.

That’s 14 times the $100 million the Army spent on family programs in fiscal 2007.

The money will be used to fund such efforts as peer support groups, camps, child care, and counseling, Army Secretary Pete Geren told the Association of the United States Army’s annual convention in Washington on Oct. 8.

In an “era of persistent conflict … we have a duty” to support Army families, Geren said.

The $1.4 billion, Geren said, shows “we are putting our money where our mouth is,” when it comes to the Army Family Covenant, a document unveiled by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey at AUSA last week.

The covenant says the Army will standardize and fund existing family programs and services, increase accessibility and quality of health care, improve soldier and family housing, ensure excellence in schools, youth services and child care, and expand education and employment opportunities for family members.

But Army budget planners are still working out the details of how the $1.4 billion will be spent in fiscal 2008, Geren said.

“Over the next few weeks, we’ll have a better idea” of which programs the money will be used for, Geren said.

Army officials are also doing some juggling between the regular and supplemental budgets, he said.

Most of the funds for the fiscal 2008 family programs are coming from the latest supplemental defense budget approved by Congress to fund the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That means the programs would expire when the money runs out, at the end of the 12-month budget cycle.

“We’re working to move money [for the family programs] out of the supplemental and into the base” budget, Geren said.

Asked why the Army waited five years into a “persistent conflict” to develop a comprehensive plan to support its families, Geren said that “as with any conflict, you learn as you go.”

And just as the Army is learning how to best train, equip and organize soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, Geren said, “We’re learning lessons on how to better train, equip and organize families.”

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