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Covenant benefits kick in for Army programs

By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 1, 2008

Army program managers might not know exactly where all the money’s coming from yet, but they know it’s there. And they’re ready to spend it.

Announced in October with much fanfare, the Army Family Covenant has given the Army’s old-school family programs an unprecedented sum of cash and capability.

At least $10 million in extra funding will make its way to U.S. Army Europe’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Child and Youth Services and Army Community Service programs in 2008, according to the Army.

ACS got an extra $5.5 million to hire more personnel and close a longtime gap in staffing. CYS got an extra $3.2 million to pay for additional staff in its child development centers and to pay for busing to and from its programs. MWR activities, including sports and fitness programs, get at least $1 million.

With much of that cash already at their fingertips, those who run the programs in Europe say the covenant has already fully kicked in.

Still, it’s taking some time for programs at the garrison level to get a handle on what the programs are capable of and to get new personnel in place.

In Mannheim, Germany, for example, ACS has operated for years with one-third fewer people than the Army’s own staffing guidelines called for.

So, while the program is getting more money, “we don’t have enough program managers to really support the community as they would like us to support them,” Danny Miles, director of Mannheim’s ACS, said.

But he expects to resolve the staffing problem within the next two to three months when, thanks to the covenant, four new employees come on board.

“We’ve always had a requirement for additional positions, there just hasn’t been the funding in order to meet that requirement,” Lynn McCollum, IMCOM-Europe’s ACS director, said. “Now the funding has been put behind that so we can actually, in Europe, hire 74 more (people).”

All but one garrison will get at least one extra person, she said, and all those extra hires will bring ACS in Europe up to 100 percent staffing.

When fully staffed, Miles said, his office will be able to do the kinds of outreach and offer education programs they’ve wanted but were unable to do before the covenant. The extra personnel will also help relieve ACS staffers — many of whom are the spouses of deployed soldiers — who have had to work overtime to deliver on the covenant’s promises.

Once the staff is in place, the biggest problem then might be “getting the word out there,” Miles said. Three months after the covenant was announced, “we’re still trying to get the community to really understand what’s available.”

People are catching on, though.

Use of the respite care program, which gives the families of deployed soldiers 16 hours of free child care a month per child, “has definitely doubled,” said Sonya Brown, who manages Mannheim’s mobilization and deployment program.

Within the next three months, roughly 80 percent of the garrison’s soldiers will be deployed, and “we expect it’s going to increase even more,” she said.

When the soldiers deploy, the families left behind will have a slew of new benefits available to them that weren’t available the last time Mannheim’s units deployed.

Thanks to the covenant, CYS registration is free. And each child can register for two CYS sports and four SKIES — Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills — classes per year, free of charge.

Child care during family readiness group meetings is also free, and hourly child care is offered at a 50 percent discount to families of deployed soldiers.

“I calculated for a family with two children — a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old,” said Cherri Verschraegen, the program manager for CYS Europe. “If they take advantage of all of the free stuff in a 12-month period, they could save $2,254 in child care expenses and participate in some pretty cool programs when you look at sports and SKIES,” she said.

Then there’s discounted bowling, $1 per game on designated days, and golf, $10 off daily greens fees, available through MWR for the families of deployed troops.

Among other things, MWR is also piloting a new program, Army Adventure Quest, in Schweinfurt. The covenant earmarks $120,000 for the pilot, said Jim Mattingly, who heads IMCOM-Europe MWR’s recreation programs.

The program will offer soldiers high-adventure activities such as paragliding and hang gliding.

“When they get back here, they’ve still got a lot of adrenaline, so we want to channel that into more positive kinds of avenues instead of things that can damage and kill,” such as driving a motorcycle at 120 miles per hour down the autobahn, Mattingly said.


Where the money’s going

  • $5.5 million for 74 additional Army Community Service personnel in Europe
  • $427,000 more for respite care for special-needs children
  • Unlimited funds for discounted hourly day care for children of deployed soldiers
  • Unlimited funds for golf and bowling discounts for deployed soldiers’ families
  • 16 hours of free “respite” child care per child per month during soldier’s deployment
  • $1.9 million for extra staff at child development centers
  • $1.3 million to provide transportation for Child and Youth Services programs
  • $35,400 for expanded hours at recreation centers
  • $330,000 for additional fitness equipment
  • New child development centers at Wiesbaden and Kaiserslautern

—From staff reports

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