Army pilot program focuses on quality of life at three ‘austere’ posts

Painted rocks greet those entering Fort Irwin, Calif. Units training have painted their crests and insignias on the boulders since World War II. (Army photograph by Jon Michael Connor)

The Army has initiated a pilot program that targets quality-of-life improvements at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Polk, La.; and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, said Army Materiel Command’s top officer Feb. 4, 2020.

Increasing quality of life across the force remains a top priority for Army senior leaders, Gen. Gus Perna said during a Defense Writers Group event. These efforts range from spousal employment initiatives to upgrades in housing, child development centers and youth facilities.

“Quite frankly, Fort Wainwright is in an austere environment,” he said. “Fort Irwin and Fort Polk are also austere, but it is where we do all of our [brigade combat team] training. We send our best leaders at all levels that go train our BCTs … to places that don’t have a lot of quality of life.”

The Army looks to make a wide range of improvements, he said, which could include new or improved facilities and capabilities.

“I figure if we can get these three [installations] right, we can get them all right,” he said.

In addition to facilities, integration with the surrounding community will also be critical to the way ahead, Perna said.

“Seventy percent of our force lives off post,” he said. “We want to partner with our communities to enable what they can bring to us.”

For example, Perna brought up the “multiplex movie theater” at Fort Bliss, Texas. Local patrons can access the theater if they maintain proper credentials to access the installation. In turn, the facility becomes a shared benefit to both Soldiers on post and the surrounding community.

“We want to partner to that end,” he said. “Why can’t we have [an indoor] waterpark in Wainwright? It can be done, so why not partner with the state of Alaska … and bring this capability to our Soldiers.

“At the end of the day, our vision is that every installation will be the No. 1 choice of Soldiers and families,” Perna added.

PCS pilot
As the Army continues to make improvements across all installations, the force is also implementing a second pilot program to improve the permanent change-of-station process for select groups of leaders, Perna said.

Soldiers attending the Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, majors attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and colonels attending the Army War College on Carlisle Barracks, Penn., are identified under the new program.

If the new program is successful, it could potentially improve the PCS process for all Soldiers, he added.

“We have a thousand leaders that rotate in and out of [these locations] every year,” Perna said. “We are changing our philosophy.”

Under the pilot, leaders selected to PCS to these locations will receive their orders 120 to 180 days out. This enables Soldiers and their families to start their PCS process early, and it will help synchronize the movement of their household goods, Perna said.

“We can make sure their houses are available when they [arrive]. We can make sure their houses are clean, and there are no work orders required on them,” he added. “The day they show up … they will already have their address [and] their household goods will show up right behind them.

” Now they can settle in, enjoy their family time, and be educated — without worrying about their house [or] work orders,” he said. “These sergeants major, majors, and colonels will be running our Army.”

Gen. Gustave Perna, commanding general of Army Material Command, discusses a pilot program that targets quality of life improvements at three installations, along with another pilot that looks to improve permanent change of station moves, during a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2020. (Courtesy photograph)

Continued focus on housing
Last year, Army leaders were notified about a wide range of housing issues that impacted the entire force. In response, leaders accepted responsibility and pledged their commitment to resolve the problems, Perna said.

Around the same time, AMC assumed authority over Installation Management Command and started applying a “four-star capability against the housing problem,” he said.

“We created a common operating picture,” Perna said. “I can see every installation in the United States Army, not just the ones managed by privatized partners, but the housing in Europe and in the Pacific. I know every piece of infrastructure on that installation. I know the work orders that are being done in housing and I know the status of everything.”

With full visibility, the Army can now maintain oversight over its base housing. Over the past year, the force completed a series of inspections on all homes, to include the investigation of all life, health, and safety work orders. The Army added 114 quality assurance inspectors to provide support.

Along with the housing inspections, Perna conducts monthly phone conversations with the CEOs responsible for the Army’s privatized housing.

“I talk to them about what needs to be done,” he said. “We are gaining ground every day. Our No. 1 focus is the quality of houses and the safety of our Soldiers and their families.”

Perna also held a conference last month with privatized partners, and garrison and senior commanders, to define the future of installation housing.

Currently, there are approximately 87,000 homes across the force, he shared. Out of the total number of homes, close to 35,000 are brand new, 27,000 are “modernized,” and the other 25,000 must be improved or replaced.

Leaders are now in the process of putting together a long-term plan to tackle all housing issues across all installations simultaneously.