Garrison commander bids farewell to Fort Belvoir
June 21, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (June 21) -- Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. John J. Strycula relinquishes command to Col. Greg Gadson, June, 25 at 10 a.m. in a ceremony on Long Parade Field, in front of the garrison headquarters building on Flagler Road.
Strycula's next assignment will take him to Afghanistan.
During the past two years as installation commander, Strycula created a team-first, Family atmosphere that spreads not only through the garrison staff, but the post's partner and community organizations as well.
The commander made it a point to begin creating that togetherness as soon as he arrived on post.
"My first two weeks, I went to each one of the directors and asked them to take me around and introduce me to all the people they work with and show me all of their facilities," said Strycula. "My goal was not only to get a sense of some of their biggest accomplishments and challenges, but to meet all the people that work in the garrison staff and get a chance to put faces to names. I didn't want to sit in front of a PowerPoint slide for three hours."
That approach aided Strycula in forming the type of attitude he wanted his staff members to carry.
"That's what garrison is all about," Strycula said. "Too often, we talk about the garrison being buildings and facilities, but it's really not. We could have the most beautiful buildings, or the ugliest buildings. That's not what makes a service. The people make a service, so I wanted to meet everyone and get a feel for what their attitudes were."
Strycula wanted the garrison staff to have a positive attitude regarding everything they do in the execution of their missions. He also showed he would take a no-nonsense approach as commander. Staff members could see he wanted to learn and genuinely cares about each of his staff members.
"He wanted to know how things are done on the installation and people and their priorities and how we went about doing our jobs and how we were integrated with the other partners," said Kim Mills, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, director. "When he talked to you, you felt like he was talking just to you. He came into command telling us he wanted to learn. That was such a compliment."
Establishing himself as an approachable and accessible commander is another goal Strycula set to achieve when he first arrived at Belvoir.
He wanted the Families on post to feel like they could approach him with any issue and that their concerns matter to more than just their neighbors. He advised Families of three things; Be informed, get involved and give him feedback.
"I wanted them to feel like they were being heard," said Strycula. "So, that was always my message to the Families. 'I need your feedback so we can know what the issues are so we can make them better.'"
Strycula credits advice he received from retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gabriel Berhane for why he advised the Families on post to share their thoughts.
"Sgt. Maj. Berhane used to say we can't be everywhere; we can't see everything, so we need the community's feedback," said Strycula.
An intelligence officer his entire military career, Strycula had no experience in installation management, but he was not worried about that when he first found out he was coming to Belvoir.
"I called my mom when I first found out and she goes, 'John, what do you know about being a garrison commander you're an 'intel' guy?'" Strycula said. "I said, 'Mom, don't worry, they send me to school for three weeks. Then they send me to the Garrison pre-command course and they will teach me everything I need to know.'"
Even though he received the training, Strycula found out quickly being a garrison commander is not a job you learn in a three week course.
In his first three days as commander, Strycula dealt with a variety of problems and issues he had never had to face in his career, including a post-wide power outage; a power line breaking over the Potomac River -- leaving River Village residents without power; and a car crash into the North Post Pool that destroyed a two-story waterslide.
If that weren't enough, President Barrack Obama came on post for a golf outing, with all the extra security and coordination issues you would expect, on day four.
"I called my mom after the President left, and I told her, 'There is nothing they could've taught me in Garrison Command School to prepare me for this,'" said Strycula.
Those early events quickly taught Strycula what he was in for as the Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, but also that he could no longer think like an intelligence officer. Strycula learned he could no longer be the subject matter expert on everything and there were going to be times he needed to defer to his staff for answers.
Another important aspect of Strycula's command was the role his wife, Wendy, would play. Wendy wanted to continue to work with Family Readiness Groups, but wasn't sure how involved she could be as the garrison commander's wife.
She found out she could continue to work with the FRGs and be involved in other areas such as Army Community Service and planning the commander's holiday reception. Both Strycula and Wendy believe being visible on post made the installation run smoother.
"I think we've seen how it works when there is no spouse and how hard it is on the Families because of a lack of understanding from the commander," Wendy said. "We are a military Family dealing with the same issues every military Family deals with. We feel, because we have more responsibility, that we owe more back to the post."
The command climate Strycula cultivated was one of togetherness. In recognition of that environment, the garrison staff took notice as they worked harder to meet his standards.
"Good commanders know happy people make good employees," said Janice Brim, DFWMR Sponsorship Coordinator. "If I have a manager I know cares about me on a personal level, not just what I bring from an employment standpoint, that makes me want to do my job better. I know if something were to happen with my Family, and I need to run out the door, there's not going to be a big fuss about why I need to leave. That leads to good work performance."
One area Strycula did not want to interfere with was the completion of the Base Realignment and Closure project. The project was well underway when Strycula took command, so his main goal was to see it through to completion.
"When Col. (Jerry) Blixt left he said, 'John, Col. (Mark) Moffatt has this BRAC thing, so just get out of his way and let him do it'," said Strycula. "He was right."
Strycula compared his role in the completion of BRAC to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's role in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 Super Bowl Championship season.
"He just handed the ball to (former running back) Jerome Bettis and let him carry the way," Strycula said. "That's what I had Col. Mark Moffatt carrying the ball into the end zone."
Though he arrived near the end of BRAC implementation, Strycula is still proud he got to see the transformation of Fort Belvoir.
"If you think about where we were two years ago, just think of how the roads have improved and the buildings that have been constructed," said Strycula. "I just owe so much credit to everyone that worked it for so many years."
Being visible, making Families feel like they have a voice and making the garrison staff and its partners feel like a team were the main goals Strycula set to achieve as garrison commander.
Under Strycula's leadership, Fort Belvoir continued to be a good neighbor to the communities outside the gates. Strycula took the opportunities to organize Route 1 cleanups and participate in events like the George Washington Birthday Parade in Alexandria, Va., and the recent Grand Slam Fest sponsored by the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce and Potomac Nationals to recognize the Army Birthday and Belvoir's centennial.
Fort Belvoir is the biggest Army post in Northern Virginia and is Fairfax County's largest employer, according to Don Carr, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs director. However that's not the extent of Belvoir's influence
"Col. Strycula realized very quickly the importance of Belvoir's relationship with the elected officials and the other community leaders around Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William Counties," said Carr. "It was critical for us to lay out for him not only who we work with outside the gate, but why we work with them."
However, Stycula's impact stretched beyond the communities as a whole.
In addition to motivating staff members to achieve more, Strycula's example also had an impact on personal lives.
"He's made me a better person because he has very strong professional and personal values," said Lt. Col. Dwayne Bowyer, Headquarters Battalion Commander. "He has a great wife, five kids and a very strong Family unit. My Family and I build off that because we see that as a great example; not only what he does in the workplace, but at home as well."
Now that he is moving on, Strycula said he is most proud of the "team-first" attitude he fostered by making all the partner organizations feel like they are not outsiders on the installation.
"When organizations were coming in under BRAC, the garrison reached out and said, 'Hey, welcome to Fort Belvoir we want you to be a part of the Family,'" said Strycula. "That's why I don't use the word tenants, because they aren't tenants, they are partners. So, creating a partnership across the garrison is what I am most proud of."
Just like he was when he first came into command, Strycula does not want his departure to be about him. He wants it to be about how the installation is moving forward.
"It's more about the future of the installation," said Strycula. "None of this is about me."