Saenz says good-bye to the 'best garrison in the Army'
June 27, 2014
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- For more than two years, COL James E. Saenz has presided as U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria's commander.
As he gets ready to say goodbye to his European home, Bavarian News sat down with the outgoing commander to see how the garrison left its mark on him.
Bavarian News: What's up next for you and your family?
Saenz: We'll be moving to Washington, D.C., and I'll be working with the chief strategic initiatives group for an assistant chief of staff for Installation Management and the commanding general of IMCOM. I'll be assisting LTG Halverson with developing strategic concepts and plans for the future of IMCOM.
BN: The garrison commander position was a big departure for you professionally having come from Special Forces. What has the position taught you about yourself as a leader that you didn't know before?
S: I think that garrison command is unique for every officer. There are very few chances to work in the garrison structure for an officer of any branch. Most touch it for the first time as garrison commander.
I didn't really learn anything new about leadership, more so than affirm what I believe, which is that the basic precepts of leadership apply to all organizations. It can be a positive factor for any organization. Positive engaged leadership helps and supports the progress and improvement in the organization.
In the Army we learn as we first enter and we continue to develop our leadership skills. All Soldiers, to include officers, have a specialty … however, the basics of leadership are the same across the board.
Engaged, inspired leadership means being truly concerned about both your mission and the people within your organization. It means providing appropriate direction for the organization and appropriate use of resources. So, we always have two things: Mission first, people always, is what I like to say.
If you make sure you take care of the people, they'll take care of the mission for you. That is not unique to the garrison. That is something that we'd like everyone to do, regardless of the specifics of the mission.
BN: What surprised you the most about being garrison commander?
S: I think what was most surprising was just the depth and breadth of what the garrison is responsible for providing to Soldiers, civilians, families, units and organizations within our footprint. Certainly as a lifelong customer of garrison services, I understood a lot of the front door services the garrison provides.
But, the backdoor stuff is what surprised me. For instance, here, in USAG Bavaria, it was amusing when I found out that we had not only one, but two rock quarries, in order to produce the rock to keep the tank trails appropriately covered with gravel. That's not something you probably would have thought of to begin with.
BN: What did being garrison commander teach you about the Army that may not have understood before?
S: I think that being in the middle of the garrison helps you understand and appreciate just how much stuff we do and we provide.
So if you're one of our customers, you'll see a certain aspect of what we provide based on your needs and requirements, but it's hard to get a true grasp of everything because everyone has unique needs.
We do just so much, from helping maintain the facilities, buildings and ranges, to providing for people's recreation and needs, like child care.
One of the funny things that I remember, after coming to the garrison from Special Forces where I had a very unique career, I was sitting here and realized that I'm studying the rules and regulations of how to correctly diaper a baby.
BN: What do you think was your most significant impact on USAG Bavaria?
S: I was very lucky to be here when we needed to transition from three separate garrisons to one single garrison, which is more efficient and still maintains the unique personalities of our separate organizations.
I think we were very successful in maintaining our front door services from prior to transformation. Of course, there were some changes to those front door services, but those were not driven by the transformation, but by other resourcing concerns.
By being able to transform as we did into a flattened organization, we gained efficiencies and overhead that otherwise would have come out of front door services.
BN: What do you think that you and your family will miss most about Bavaria?
S: Everything. We absolutely enjoyed our time. We had a great time in Europe. We'll miss the opportunity to travel and see so much culture and history and certainly in the Oberpfaelzer region, we'll miss the people, the food, the beer and the fests.
BN: What do you think distinguishes this garrison from the others where you have been stationed?
S: I may be biased, but this is absolutely the best garrison in the United States Army. As we know, it's also the largest garrison outside of the United States. Working inside the garrison, you certainly appreciate the size of Grafenwoehr versus the size of Garmisch, the training and tactical mission set of the organization in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, versus the more strategic and FMWR mission of our organizations down in Garmisch.
The distance between our different sites and the great relationship we have with the community outside all of our gates also helps amplify just how different our communities are, yet we are still able to unite as one under USAG Bavaria.
BN: What are you most looking forward to at your new post?
S: Personally, in my occupation, it will be an opportunity to help develop a way forward for Installation Management as we continue to reshape and adjust our policies and procedures to meet the needs of all our communities, but also determine how to operate more efficiently in a resource-constrained environment.
For the family, as much as we're going miss Bavaria, we're looking forward to the opportunity to take in all the U.S. culture in the D.C. area, like the monuments, the Smithsonian, the government and, of course, the sports.
BN: What is one final thought you'd like to impart to the community?
S: Thank you! Thank you very much for an absolutely phenomenal journey. I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to command USAG Bavaria. It's the absolute best garrison because we have the absolute best people working here and living in our footprint.
We have a great relationship with the German communities outside our gates. Thank you very much to them. Thank you to all the great units we have. And, I just want to say: Keep it up! Continue to be the best garrison in the United States Army. And I'll be watching.