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Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 12:00 pm

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

There were times Lt. Col. Tim Karcher could've and should've died, he said.

"But they kept me going," he said Friday of his family.

Karcher was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, June 29 when his vehicle was struck by roadside bomb containing explosively-formed projectiles. He lost his legs in the attack and battled for his life in Army hospitals between Iraq and the United States.

Through it all he thought about his wife and daughters and coming home to them. He said that's what kept him going.

The Karchers and other Fort Hood families were honored Friday at the post's Army Family Covenant reaffirmation ceremony.

Fort Hood officials signed the first Army Family Covenant Nov. 1, 2007, which pledged support to soldiers' families. It read that the Army recognized "the strength of our soldiers comes from the strength of their families" and that the Army is committed to "providing soldiers and families a quality of life that is commensurate with their service."

The covenant committed to improving family readiness by standardizing and funding programs and services and increasing health care services, improving housing and expanding educational opportunities for family members. Officials promised to develop a plan to determine the success of current programs, said Col. Bill Hill, garrison commander. If gaps or lags were found, they would be fixed, he added.

Hill was joined by Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Felt, garrison senior noncommissioned officer; Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, III Corps and Fort Hood commander; and Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Coleman, for Friday's signing at Club Hood. Karcher and his wife, Alesia, accompanied them, along with a group of others representing soldiers and Army spouses, children, retirees and volunteers.

The ceremony also included performances by Master Sgt. Natasha Hartley and fourth- and fifth-graders from Meadows Elementary School.

Officials have focused on the gaps in the last two years, Hill said. They've learned that support a family's first deployment is not like supporting the third because new needs emerge, he said. Programs must continue to grow and evolve.

Never before has the Army asked so much of its families, Cone said, adding they serve beside their soldiers and endure their hardships to provide the unconditional love and support that makes the Army strong.

"This is all about putting family first," he said of the covenant.

The general went on to outline improvements made to programs and services in the last two years, among them:

Fee reduction or elimination in seven programs that support soldiers and their families;

Multiple free childcare programs that provided more than 30,400 hours of care to more than 10,700 children, saving parents more than $121,000 in 2009;

Spending $9 million on housing improvements;

Constructing 216 new officer housing units and 16 command sergeant major housing units;

Securing funding for construction and renovation of thousands of barracks spaces; and

Launching initiatives like the Military Spouse Advancement Account Program to help spouses with up to $6,000 in financial aid.

Though significant progress has been made, there is more work to be done, Cone said. Challenges include continued support for deployed troops, support for the Warrior in Transition program, services to Gold Star families, the burden on family readiness group leaders, preparing for future deployments and returns and resetting the forces and families.

The Army has taken greats steps to highlight the importance of families in the last five to 10 years, Tim Karcher said. Family is what keeps us steady and grounded, he added.

Alesia Karcher said her family is a product of what the Army is doing to take care of its own. Her husband said he has received great support from the division and post following the June blast that changed he and his family's lives.

"It's humbling how much people in the community cares," Tim said.

He splits his time between Fort Hood and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The time apart from his troopers has been difficult, Tim said, and not being there with them is one of the most terrible feelings.

"I feel like I'm letting them down," he said.

The men and women of 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry will start returning to Fort Hood in January and their former commander will be there to welcome them back.

"Oh yeah, I can't wait," Tim said.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547.

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