FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska - For most Soldiers, staying in on-post lodging can mean the difference between eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner instead of steak while traveling on TDY orders.

Although many travel expenses on a TDY trip are reimbursable, all Soldiers have to pay for accommodations and food out-of-pocket first and file the proper trip paperwork for payback later.

Army Lodging at Fort Richardson makes that initial bite to the wallet a little less painful by providing Soldiers who are relocating, attending training or TDY, temporary lodging that is a good value, comfortable, clean and safe, said Melanie Ford, the Fort Richardson manager of Army Lodging.

At an average of $68 a night in the summer, the rooms are comparable to what is available in Anchorage and Eagle River for a lot more money, said Dennis Jameson, a quality assurance analyst for the Directorate of Family, Welfare and Recreation program.

Downtown Anchorage summer rates can be as high as $250 a night, he said.

But not all rooms on post are available for Soldiers to rent all the time, because each room must undergo annual maintenance twice a year, Jameson said.

"This was a problem," he said.

It's during this time frame each room is inspected for deficiencies. Once repairs are identified, they are made, and the room is thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.

It was a process that used to take three to five days, sometimes longer if replacement parts for broken items were not readily available.

With some rooms out of commission for about a week, some Soldiers were being turned away to seek accommodations elsewhere.

"The whole process was taking too long," Jameson said. "It was decided to study the maintenance plan and checklist to see where improvements could be made so rooms undergoing maintenance could be turned around in a shorter time frame."

Enter Lean Six Sigma, the U.S. Army's business management tool used to evaluate standard operating procedures and processes in hopes of streamlining them and making them better.

The goal was to reduce the number of non-availability statements being issued to Soldiers, said Barbara Ringland, the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office chief. Ringland also serves as the deputy deployment director.

If Soldiers had to get motels or hotels off post, costs not only increased for the Army but for the Soldier as well. Increased room rates, the cost of rental cars, gas and inconvenience made the maintenance process a good candidate for revamping using Lean Six Sigma, she said.

"This is a great example of how Lean Six Sigma can be used to improve any process to save the Army money or to save Soldiers time and/or money," Ringland said.

After studying the current operating procedure for room maintenance, a plan was developed to not only restructure the process, but the maintenance checklist for each room too, Jameson said.

It was found the majority of repairs needed were almost the same from room to room.

So parts needed for repairs were ordered up front, resulting in considerable time being saved, he said. That was then coupled with keeping parts for the most common repairs on-hand.

"It was also found that some of the maintenance performed was overlapping with tasks assigned to housekeeping," Jameson said.

Those cleaning tasks being performed by the maintenance crew were taken off housekeeping's list, essentially shortening the time each housekeeper spent in a room scheduled for maintenance.

"This also freed the housekeepers up to perform their regular day-to-day duties throughout the rest of lodging," he said.

Then the maintenance checklist was reorganized to mirror the layout of the rooms.

"With the current checklist, there was a lot of time spent going back and forth within the room," Jameson said.

After redoing the checklist, maintenance was done in a more sequential manner using a step-by-step process, which shaved off even more time.

After using the tools of Lean Six Sigma - the whole maintenance process was cut back to two to three days, he said.

"Every minute, hour or day we can shave off, that frees up the room that can be made available to the customer," Jameson said.

Which in turn equals more money in Soldiers' pockets and less money spent for lodging by the Army overall, he said.

(Sharon McBride works for the Fort Richardson, Alaska Public Affairs Office.)

Page last updated Fri July 18th, 2008 at 14:22