Manchu company achieves 'mini-transformation'
February 24, 2010
- Infantry company makes command sponsorship a priority.
- 1st Sgt. proves Family life can thrive in the heart of 2nd Infantry Divison rifle company.
- Expanded command sponsorship opportunities in South Korea.
No ground seems less hospitable to Family life than the training area surrounding a rifle company command post.
"It might be possible for the guys at higher headquarters, but not in a 2nd Infantry Division line company," the conventional wisdom runs.
But one senior enlisted leader stood that conventional wisdom on its head and in the process proved Family life can not only survive but thrive even in the heart of the Division's legacy infantry battalion.
When 1st Sgt. Aaron V. Moore of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team first served in the Dongducheon area, command sponsorship was as painful as it was rare.
"If conditions were the same as they were 11 years ago I wouldn't have brought them here," he said bluntly. "I would've done my year here and returned as soon as possible, without a doubt."
But profoundly impressed by recent changes in culture, infrastructure and command climate, Moore instead developed into a powerful advocate for the command sponsorship program and spearheads a robust company level effort to welcome wives and children into the Manchu Family.
Informed by a close friend he served with at Camp Hovey during his first tour with the Division of the vastly improved Family climate in Area 1, Moore decided promptly to bring his wife Joette, 10-year-old daughter Skylar and 5-year-old son Michael with him to Warrior Country when he received assignment instructions.
"I knew right away I was going to bring the Family," he recalled. "It was just a matter of getting the paperwork straight. I treated it like any other assignment."
"Getting the paperwork straight" required a bit of doing.
"The process didn't work very well in 2008," he noted. Frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles, Aaron Moore brought his Family to Korea at personal expense. He and his wife home-schooled their daughter. Fortunately, all ended well. "It was actually much easier to work the command sponsorship issue on the ground," he said.
But the challenges yielded valuable lessons. Keenly aware of the issues confronting Warrior Families, the first sergeant manages one of the most supportive organizations in the Division. "The first 48 hours are crucial," he noted. "What happens to the Families when they first arrive will determine how they view the company and how much they get involved. If you ignore them when they're brand new and confused they'll probably lose interest and not become involved in your activities; but if you bring them on board right away they know you care about them and they want to be part of it."
The first sergeant and Capt. Derek K. Ping, the HHC, 2-9th commander, ensure a company representative meets incoming Families at the Inchon airport and escorts them to Dongducheon. They brief Soldiers on required documents, timelines, facilities and infrastructure. Notwithstanding the demanding company training schedule, the command team remains flexible with their Soldiers' time and strives not to waste it.
The first sergeant even runs an emergency loan closet out of his Camp Casey office, lending duffel bags packed with living essentials to new arrivals as Family circumstances dictate. Perhaps still more importantly, he serves as a conduit of vital information, providing advice on housing, education and medical facilities and invaluable pointers on navigating the command sponsorship bureaucracy. He knows Dongducheon housing areas, schools and medical providers by name and offers expert guidance on virtually any subject relevant to Family life in Area 1. The first sergeant also refers incoming Soldiers and Family members to appropriate garrison and Division agencies as necessary.
The innovative command team even looks to the next generation of Manchus, sending congratulations and flowers when Soldiers' wives deliver babies, assisting new parents with generous pass and leave policies, and allowing Warriors to accompany Families to medical appointments when necessary.
The first sergeant and his CO demonstrate what innovative and energetic company level leadership can accomplish given a motivated team and a supportive command climate. The efforts amount to a mini-transformation within the company. The company currently supports fully 30 Families - 21 of them command sponsored.
"The Soldiers are seeing the benefits. Almost half the CS packets that come across my desk are from guys who told me 'I'm just doing my year and getting out of here' during their initial counseling," Aaron Moore said with a smile.
Motivated Manchu wives like Joette Moore also play an enormous role in the company transformation. Family Readiness Group volunteers contact incoming spouses promptly, providing assistance, community information and points of contact as needed. "I call the incoming spouses in the first couple days and find out if they need anything," she said. "We just make sure they have everything they need to live and make it through the first few days. I think that's the most important thing."
The FRG has grown with the HHC and Manchu Family. "The FRG went from being almost non-existent to sponsoring major events and playing an important role in Family life," Aaron Moore said.
Company and FRG leaders collaborate in a robust and unique unit-level morale, welfare and recreation program. "We'll go to a different place every week," Aaron Moore said. "We'll put a different officer or (noncommissioned officer) in charge of the event, and he'll organize everything and coordinate with the FRG. We invite the whole company - including the Families - and send out a sign-up roster. Sometimes we'll go to a temple and eat lunch; sometimes we'll go hiking; we even went on an overnight skiing trip."
The FRG further demonstrated its worth in the aftermath of the ski trip. "We used all our money during the ski trip," he recalled. "So the FRG entered a Christmas tree decorating contest and won $500. We used the proceeds to replenish our MWR funds."
Aaron Moore, an enthusiastic outdoorsman from the small upstate New York town of Lowville - located just south of Fort Drum - readily embraced Korean mountain climbing and hiking opportunities. "You can see so much," he said. "It's amazing how much there is to see and do here. We don't waste a weekend."
The establishment of a Department of Defense Education Activity school at Camp Casey - scheduled to open for the coming fall school year - marks another important milestone in the development of the Warrior Family footprint.
After home-schooling for part of one term and enrolling their daughter in one unaccredited school in Dongducheon and one accredited school in Uijongbu during another, the Moores appreciate the value of an on-post education facility. Aaron Moore said he likes the International Christian School his daughter currently attends but prefers educating her closer to home.
"We feel good about it," he said. "A lot of parents would prefer not to put their kids - especially younger kids - on a school bus at 0700 and not see them again until late in the afternoon. I think there will be a long line come registration day. I think a lot of people will be happy to have the school right here."
"I feel really good about the new school," added Joette Moore. "It's going to be a lot closer for the kids. That's helpful, especially with a child entering kindergarten next fall."
"This will also open up opportunities through Youth Services and other after school programs," she added. "This will give kids here opportunities like they'd have in the States."
"I think the school will build the community," Aaron Moore said. "Parents will be able to participate in more school events. They'll drop kids off and stay to shop or use the base facilities. They'll meet other parents - it'll get more people involved."
Indeed, the base community has grown impressively during the Moores' two years in Warrior Country. Joette Moore not only likes Dongducheon but actually prefers Camp Casey to Yongsan Garrison - a stunning repudiation of the conventional wisdom unimaginable even two years ago.
"We go to Yongsan once in a while for shopping, medical care and everything," the Oswego, N.Y. native said. "It's OK once in a while but we're not big city people so it's too busy for us. We're glad we're not stationed there."
Challenges remain, Aaron Moore noted, Family medical care prominent among them. Timely pediatric care in particular, he said, is often difficult to obtain at Area 1 military facilities, requiring frequent and lengthy trips to the 121st Combat Support Hospital at Yongsan.
"Going to Yongsan is definitely an all day affair," he said. "Just think: they have to travel to the bus station, take the shuttle to Yongsan, take a taxi from the Yongsan bus station to the hospital - plus arrive early - then repeat the whole process going back. They're doing a lot better now, but things will definitely be easier once we have more pediatric doctors up here."
The first sergeant describes the biggest challenge in cultural terms.
"The operating mentality has to be crushed," he said with a smile. "The old mentality of staying at your office until 2100 every night like no one has a Family and waiting for the year to be over has to change. We need to bring the mentality here on line with the rest of the Army."
Aaron Moore views tour normalization and cultural change as beneficial to the Army as well as Warriors and their Families. "When you take out all the time devoted to in-processing, clearing and mid-tour leave, you're getting closer to 10 months than a year of continuity," he noted. "Leaders don't have the same amount of time to develop Soldiers and mentor them as they go through different ranks and positions. They can accomplish so much more with normal two and three year tours."
Longer tours and stability, Aaron Moore predicted, will ultimately create better organizations and better trained Soldiers as well as happy Families. "Continuity is a key to success, and that's something we're trying to accomplish here," he said, adding that "keeping the Family happy is also a very important part of our success as an Army. They need to support us for us to get the most out of our Soldiers."
Families like the Moores contribute to and reflect the change sweeping Warrior Country.
"It's not the Korea of yesterday," Aaron Moore said. "It's no longer the Korea where Soldiers spent a year here and did nothing but go to the field and go to the 'ville. We're becoming a community. We're becoming what we want to be."