Thursday, February 5, 2009

Legion participates in Community Covenant program

Legion participates in Community Covenant program

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The American Legion announced its support Jan. 30 for the nationwide Community Covenant program, which fosters effective state and local partnerships that improve the quality of life for U.S. servicemembers and their families. Cities and towns pledge their support at signing ceremonies for military families with written covenants, which often have included specific programs and initiatives designed to make life easier for warriors and their loved ones.

Craig Whelden, a retired Army major general, leads the Community Covenant effort. He said the program began as an Army-only operation, but quickly expanded to include all branches of the armed forces - including reserves and the National Guard.

"We're in the seventh year of this war, and it's the longest war in our nation's history with an all-volunteer force," Whelden said. "So the secretary of the Army thought this would be an opportunity to engage the American public in their communities, and raise the level of visibility of the dedication and sacrifices of our servicemembers."

Whelden said the Community Covenant aims to inspire the leadership in cities, towns and states to conduct signing ceremonies that visibly demonstrate their support for military families. "It's an opportunity for the military to also thank the community for the support they provide."

Last year, 85 signing ceremonies took place at state capitols, fairgrounds, colleges, high schools, town halls and sports stadiums. They were often attended by mayors, members of Congress, governors, National Guard adjutants general and other military officials. Fifty-two additional ceremonies were conducted in communities near military installations across the United States, from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Fort Stewart, Ga. So far, 11 Community Covenant signings are scheduled for this year and dozens more are in the planning stages.

Whelden's organization has identified more than 1,500 "best practices," from national initiatives to local programs, that offer effective community support for troops and their families. For example, 35 states provide full tuition to military families for higher education. Many nonprofit organizations help military families with their financial needs, such as The American Legion's Temporary Financial Assistance program (for families with children who are minors). Other groups focus on assistance to children and youth who experience trauma and loss, such as the Legion-endorsed Operation Military Kids.

"I'm a Legionnaire," Whelden said. "And The American Legion seems to be a very good fit for the kind of support we're looking for. The Legion doesn't need to spend any money on this. We're just asking its members to help us with our outreach efforts to the mayors and other civic leaders in their communities."

While Community Covenant provides a basic text for documents that are signed, states and communities have added their own unique pledges, with specific references to programs and activities that will help them achieve their outreach to military families.

A sample covenant text reads, "We, the Community, recognize the commitment Soldiers and their Families are making every day. The strength of Soldiers comes from the strength of their Families. The strength of Families is supported by the strength of the Community. The strength of the Community comes from the support of Employers, Educators, Civic and Business Leaders, and it Citizens."

The Community Covenant Web site has a wealth of information, including a list of state and local "best practices," an event schedule, media and press coverage, and a step-by-step guide for organizing a community signing ceremony.

To see a slide show about the Community Covenant program and its Web site, click here.

Army Community Covenant

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