'Culture of excellence'

FORT BENNING, Ga. - Fort Benning is making a push to refine the reception process for all incoming Soldiers and strike a balance between housing priorities and availability.

Post officials said they will examine "predictable" arrivals - students coming in for the Maneuver Captains Career Course and NCO Academy, for instance - and compare how they're received to the installation's general population.

The overall plan is being fashioned with an eye on the anticipated influx of Armor Soldiers from Fort Knox, Ky., in the next 18 months.

"You've got to have a culture of service that is pervasive, positive and upbeat ... because it's about people," said MG Michael Ferriter, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general. "This place is so intertwined. What I want us to do is to train and develop our people to understand that their task is ... to demonstrate inspirational leadership.

"That's why this has to be a culture of excellence."

Fort Benning already supports more than 120,000 Soldiers, family members, civilians and retirees on a daily basis. That number is forecast to grow by about 30,000 before September 2011, when the MCoE becomes fully operational.

Ferriter said he wants to adopt a "gold standard" for reception and housing at Fort Benning. That includes offering Soldiers and their families adequate housing options, facilities, sports fields and amenities, he said.

Post officials said they will use the MCCC process as a model to make improvements across the board. A third MCCC team will be created once Armor's move is complete.

"We're using it as an example in trying to improve our processes for everybody across the installation, not just MCCC," said Keith Lovejoy, the Residential Communities Initiative asset manager. "Right now, it's all conceptual. There are no current pilot programs, but we are definitely looking at implementing some in the near future. It's one of the considerations being looked at to improve things like reception, housing, awareness and other services."

COL Mark Suich, the director of training at Fort Benning, said his organization relies heavily on after-action reports and began implementing reception changes a year ago - mostly in communications with prospective students. At the time, MCCC leaders were trying to lure more spouses and families here, he said.

It started with a complete overhaul of the MCCC Web site, which is available at www.benning.army.mil/mc3. Suich said it's linked to all other Fort Benning Web sites and now gets listed on the orders of every student, not just those coming from overseas.

The MCCC site has many features aimed at families and advertises spouse town hall meetings, orientation programs, the Army Family Team Building and MCCC Spouse Leadership Course, and other opportunities. Suich said Facebook pages also have helped increase the number of family members accompanying captains.

MCCC class sizes range from 160 to 230 students, he said. Spouses accompany 60-70 captains from each group.

Suich said MCCC took another step by clarifying procedures for in-processing. The unit will soon formalize its sponsor program, which had been a more casual process through friends, e-mails and Facebook. Current students will be linked with incoming captains to sharpen communication via e-mail and telephone.

MCCC students normally get orders to report about 30 days out. That offers leaders only "limited intel" when planning farther out for class sizes and family needs, Suich said.

"If we can control report dates by getting students here a week earlier or start programming 60 days out and staggering dates, perhaps we can manage smaller groups more efficiently all the way through the course," he said.

Lovejoy said officials with Pinnacle Property Management, the Fort Benning Family Communities LLC partner, are "thinking outside the box" and plan to conduct pilot programs in different housing areas around post. They might place future MCCC students in Upatoi Village to increase occupancy there. Another option is Davis-Bouton Village near the I-185 causeway, where their classes would be within walking and biking distances.

Devising a consistent policy for waiting lists is among the biggest challenges facing military housing officials, said Pinnacle regional president James Milligan.

"Military housing is really the only place in the world where you're going to leave some place and not know whether or not you're going to have a house," he said. "We'd like to get to the point where, before they pack the truck, they either know they're on the waiting list or they know what their address is."

In terms of reception and housing priorities, officials said they're trying not to distinguish between permanent-party Soldiers and students.

"Everybody on the team is on the team, for whatever the duration," Ferriter said, adding he'd also like to see more flexibility for Soldiers seeking housing upgrades if they choose to go on a waiting list.

Performing maintenance between residents is a major factor in creating certainty, Lovejoy said. The standard for turning over a house is seven days, while officials require a vacate notice of 30 days.

"This notification provides an opportunity to fine-tune how the turn is going to be conducted and gives the leasing personnel an estimated timeline," he said.

Bob Chenoweth, Pinnacle's senior representative on post, said The Villages of Benning's revamped Web site includes options for married and single Soldiers, and they can begin planning a move up to 90 days out. Availability is shown by rank and village. The site is easy to navigate and has made moves more predictable, he said.

The Villages of Benning has done a great job balancing occupancy around the installation, Lovejoy said. Additional forecasts and estimates are being made based on the needs of Armor Soldiers and their families.

Housing officials said they'll also consider simplifying the priority system and reducing the number of waiting lists they maintain to streamline the entire reception process.

"We're working the MCCC piece now," Lovejoy said. "We have all the other arms that we're going to have to bring into this process to make it postwide. As we refine this program, we'll be able to export it to the rest of the activities across the board."

Access to housing information and other moving-related resources is available at www.benning.army.mil/newcomers. The Villages of Benning Web site is at https://benning.pinnaclefamilyhousing.com.

Page last updated Fri March 26th, 2010 at 13:28