Focus on community as garrison preps for closure
Members of the community wind down at a community celebration hosted by the garrison May 11, 2012, on Conn Barracks at U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt in Germany. A recent announcement to close the garrison here has strengthened the garrison's commitment to the Schweinfurt community.

SCHWEINFURT, Germany (May 23, 2012) -- Garrison officials here continue to focus efforts on the community even as they brace for a base transformation that will see its eventual drawdown and closure by the fall of 2014.

"Just because we're closing doesn't mean we're dying," said Lt. Col. Michael Runey, garrison commander, at a community celebration held last week. "We will continue to build and strengthen community, and celebrate our accomplishments, milestones and our time as long as we are in Schweinfurt."

After the Defense Department announced last year that U.S. Army in Europe would take reductions in military and civilian positions, it later said that the 172nd Brigade Combat Team with units in Schweinfurt would inactivate by October 2013, and the Schweinfurt Army garrison would be returned to the host nation by 2015.

But garrison leaders remain undeterred by the recent announcement, which has only strengthened their commitment to the Schweinfurt military community.

In March, Runey laid the groundwork for how the garrison would operate up through Oct. 2014, the anticipated closure date. Among his priorities, which will guide all decision-making over the course of the transformation, is to support and strengthen the Schweinfurt community. Garrison directors are now focusing available resources on services and events in line with those priorities. That is now being made more evident with recent efforts to strengthen a sense of community across Schweinfurt.

In the past month alone the garrison has forged a plan centered on community-wide initiatives to include last month's Kinderfest, the Community Celebration, and new barbeque areas and a neighborhood support center at Askren Manor. The Sizzling Summer campaign, which kicked off earlier last week, includes a myriad list of future events and activities geared toward all audiences of the community to bring people together in ways they can build each other up and strengthen a sense of belonging, according to Runey.

Garrison leadership maintained services at a very high level despite significant changes in Schweinfurt organization, preventing many from seeing signs of drawdown and closure. In November 2010 the garrison staffed 473 German and American employees. Since then, the garrison work force has shrunk by eleven percent with no noticeable effects to the services provided by the garrison, according to statistics released by the garrison resource management office.

While closure remains at the forefront in the minds of garrison leadership, the effects of the planned closure have remained minimal to the public eye. Last month, however, the theater program was discontinued as a result of a decision-making process that sees services not meeting command priorities are taken offline, reduced or substituted.

"It's not really an issue for many people," said Denita Fox, an Army spouse and one of the leading architects of the Schweinfurt Army Families Facebook page, a grass-roots resource aimed at informing Americans in Germany and assuaging their anxieties. Reference closure, Fox stated "It's been said but no one is believing it. There's no talk about it."

That closure seems improbable is understandable, as the community continues to deploy, redeploy, restation and move record numbers of people. In 2011 the garrison in-processed 564 more Soldiers than it out-processed. While that trend is reversing, the garrison has still in-processed nearly 350 Soldiers into USAG Schweinfurt this year alone.

Over the next 90 days, about 170 families will be moving into Yorktown, Askren and government-leased housing. What's more, the garrison anticipates the arrival of 200 families to the military community here by this summer, and another 200 single Soldiers as well.

Anticipating the summer moving season with ongoing missions while keeping an eye on closure, Runey has beefed up efforts to receive inbound Soldiers and families by creating a welcome to Schweinfurt video, keeping facilities' managers and school staff informed, developing a Transition 2014 webpage to keep the community apprised of base closure news, and carving out space in Schweinfurt for families to live -- all of which reflect a commitment to his top priority: supporting the Army's combat capability, often referred to as Army Forces Generation, or ARFORGEN. That also includes sponsorship and integrating Soldiers and those with families quickly into the community.

Garrison leadership meanwhile confronts a conflicting mission of closing a base down that must at the same time maintain its operational readiness and quality of life levels.

"There's going to be cutbacks and once that happens people are going to realize that the base is closing, which will cause a lot of stress and tension," Fox said.

Fox, an Army wife with three children, is moving to Grafenwoehr this summer with her husband who is attached to the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. The 44th ESB is the first unit to move out of Schweinfurt as a result of the Defense Department's restructuring of the Army in Europe.

"I understand the pressures that our Soldiers and families are going to feel. I'm part of the community too, and my goal is to keep the dialogue open and maintain a transparent and honest relationship with the community. As a garrison we'll strive to deliver the best quality of life with the resources we have by building and strengthening our sense of community. Together we'll ensure missions are accomplished and people sense they belong," said Runey.

"We believe that community is a participatory event. It's not a spectator event. We also believe that if you belong to the community you own the community," said USAG Schweinfurt's Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Gordon at a May 15 town hall meeting at the Conn Club.

"We firmly believe that community is not given to anybody. We really want to fight against an entitlement mentality," said Runey at the town hall. "We owe things to each other. One of the things we owe is a commitment to plugging in. How are you going to plug into the community?"

How drastic the effects of transition are felt over the course of the next two years rests largely on how well each individual Soldier and family member commits to being a member of the Schweinfurt community. Garrison leaders are clearly communicating now how important not only mission accomplishment is to Schweinfurt, but also maintaining a strong community.

Page last updated Wed May 23rd, 2012 at 16:57