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The fight over war spending has claimed its first victim. A high-profile initiative to improve the quality of life for Army families has effectively been put on the back burner as a result of the budget impasse.

If the struggle continues, an Army official warned, funding for some programs that were supposed to get an increase in funding in fiscal 2008 could instead be slashed.

Rolled out to much fanfare at U.S. Army garrisons across the globe in October and November, the Army Family Covenant, as the initiative is called, is the cornerstone of the Army’s plans to bulk up programs and services for families stressed by frequent deployments.

But because virtually all funding for the covenant — $1.4 billion — is tied up in the funding bill that is at the center of a clash between Congress and the president, none of the promised funds have yet made their way to Army families or even to garrisons in Europe.

Concerned that the bill might not pass before money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan runs out, Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, has ordered all commands and activities to draft plans for reduced operations at Army posts.

According to Cody’s order, the effort’s intent is to reduce funding for some operations “to the minimum essential level.”

Pete Geren, the secretary of the Army, told Congress he may need to reduce some of the same services the Army pledged to improve in its “covenant,” such as counseling for returning soldiers and their families, and family and youth activities, in order to shift money to the war budget.

That is a possibility “if the supplemental doesn’t pass,” said Ned Christensen, a spokesman for Installation Management Command in Washington.

At this point, though, installations are being told to continue at their previous funding level, he said. That level, though, is where programs were funded before the covenant.

Plans to cut back on nonessential programs and services will, if necessary, go into effect in late February, Christensen said.

Among the covenant’s goals are increases in the number of paid assistants to deal with family issues at a battalion level; extension of child-care operating hours; expansion of hourly and respite care; increase in the number of Army Community Service personnel; and expansion of youth programs.

The covenant, which is really a statement of commitment to another initiative — the Army Soldier Family Action Plan — also includes plans to beef up health care, family housing, schools and family member education and employment opportunities.

If funds come, IMCOM has plan to spend it

A plan to turn the Army Family Covenant into a functioning initiative was sent out to Army garrison and Installation Management Command leaders Nov. 16, according to an e-mail from Brig. Gen. John A. Macdonald, the deputy commanding general of IMCOM, obtained by Stars and Stripes.

In the plan are millions of dollars earmarked for various programs, services and personnel in Europe.

IMCOM-Europe has not released its plan for spending an estimated $110 million in covenant money. Any plan will be put on hold until a war funding supplemental bill is passed.

Commands and garrisons have been directed to keep spending at pre-covenant levels, according to Ned Christensen, an IMCOM spokesman in Washington.

Among the highlights in the executive order that outlines the IMCOM headquarters plan are:

More than $42 million for child development services in Europe.Nearly $13 million for youth development programs in Europe.$200,000 for fitness programs at Grafenwöhr, Germany, and Vicenza, Italy, to reduce post deployment trauma.$130,000 for fitness and aquatics programs at Grafenwöhr and Vicenza.More than $1.1 million to start new initiatives and expand services in Europe.More than $5.5 million to hire personnel to staff expanded programs and services in Europe.$880,000 for respite care for families with exceptional family members in Europe.— Matt Millham


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