RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, spoke after signing an Army Family Covenant at Schofield Barracks. Behind him are soldiers and their families.
Family fitness becomes Army goal
Thirty-five years ago, Gen. Richard Cody was a young, green second lieutenant fresh out of West Point living in Schofield Barracks historic Quad B and commanding draftees, most of them young and single.
Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii, outlined projects at Schofield Barracks:
» $720,000 for a Soldier and Family Assistance Center to provide critical support services to wounded warriors and their families and to hire a staff of nine.
» $30 million to build building a new 175,000 square foot post exchange.
» $930,000 to renovate Schofield Barracks main post chapel.
» $12 million for a new 200-seat Fort Shafter chapel.
» $1.3 million to hire 33 family readiness support assistants to help families while their spouses are deployed. Previously all of these positions were filled by volunteers.
» $12.5 million for a child-care center designed to provide care to 195 children ages 6-10.
"Back then," said Cody, now vice chief of staff of the Army, "the saying was if the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one."
All that has changed with upward of 60 percent of the soldiers in the Army married with children.
Soldiers are being called to combat with as little as a year between front line tours. The fighting in Afghanistan for seven years and 4 1/2 in Iraq has meant that many soldiers have pulled two and even three combat tours.
"We are an Army at war," Cody told reporters last week. "The sacrifices of our soldiers and selfless service are important.
"But equally important are the sacrifices and service of our great Army families -- whether they be sons or daughters, husband or wives, mothers or fathers. The commitment by our Army is to say that we will take care of you while your soldiers are deployed."
"We are a more married Army. Our ranks are full of young people who are married. That's a good thing. They are more mature. They are more committed. They certainly understand the demand of being a soldier as well as being a good father or mother.
"The whole demographics of the Army have changed during the 35 years I have been in and that is why we have had to change how we approach our support to family members."
On Thursday, Cody joined local Army leaders and families in signing what the Army calls "the Army Family Covenant," a symbolic gesture being done at Army posts throughout the world.
Army leaders at Thursday's ceremony at Schofield Barracks' new Kalakaua Community Center say caring for Army families is paramount to ensuring a combat-ready force where soldiers can focus on their wartime mission knowing that their spouses and children's needs are being met.
Over the next six years, Cody said, the Army will spend $40 billion to fund family support programs, ranging from new homes to child-care facilities and support for wounded returning soldiers.
At Schofield Barracks the Kalakaua Community Center was built as part of the Army's partnership with private developers where $2.6 billion will be spent over the next 10 years to build 12,000 new homes and 90,000 new barracks spaces and to renovate another 13,000 homes, Cody said.
"By 2011, 97 percent of Army housing here will be newer. It's investment in things like child development centers. We are going to build 40 new child development care centers to bring the total from four years ago from 133 to over 200."
That also means job opportunities on post for spouses, Cody said.
Army officials said about 600 new homes have already been built at Schofield Barracks with about 30 to 40 being completed each month.
Rebecca Highfill, who husband Maj. J.D. Highfill is the executive officer with the 2nd Stryker Combat Brigade Team's 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry, said "Hawaii is right on track" in its support of soldiers stationed at Schofield Barracks.
"There are youth programs," said Highfill, who has an 11-year-old daughter, Taylor-Van, and is expecting another girl in February.
"There also are spiritual support programs," said Highfill who spent her husband's first Iraqi tour in 2003 at Fort Lewis in Washington.
Nekisha Walker, 25, has been married for two years to Spc. Chaz Walker and has been in Hawaii for only a year.
"I think it's awesome on the changes that have occurred," she said. "I've seen the community grow just during the year that I have been here."
Cody said retaining soldiers was not the main focus of this Army initiative.
"It is more a recognition that we are demanding more of our Army families," said the four-star general, "and that we need to step up and provide them with what we call quality of life that is better than the quality of service that we are demanding of our young soldiers."
"This is not a retention issue with us. This is an obligation we owe our family members."