FMWR director has local roots
February 15, 2013
It was a kind of homecoming when Denise James, the new director of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, started her job here Nov. 19. As a Soldier, James worked as a medic at the installation's Rader Clinic when the facility had an emergency room.
That was "many moons ago," she said, declining to provide specific dates. Armed with a degree in recreation from Virginia State University, after leaving active duty James continued to work for the Army as a civilian, traveling to Europe to work as a MWR facility manager. Prior to coming to JBM-HH, the Virginia Beach native most recently served as FMWR director at Camp Red Cloud, Korea, and with the Army Installation Management Command's G9 Family Program in San Antonio, Texas, as the Army volunteer corps program manager.
James said her active duty years and experience moving up through MWR have informed her views of bringing services and programs to Soldiers and Family members.
"As a young Soldier it was important for me to get off this base, as opposed to hanging around," she said. "And most of the other young Soldiers that were with me had similar goals -- get off the installation when you're not working.
"The thought is that's where I would have learned a lot about the MWR arena. Not so. I did use the gymnasium. I can't tell you if they had a recreation center… I know that they had the officers club," she said, recalling her early days on base.
James specified that unlike other installations, JBM-HH is located in a large metropolitan area and has many distractions that can draw a Soldier off post for recreational activities.
"I learned so much more as I got older and really started to appreciate providing services," she said. "One of the things I've learned and I hold to is the importance of talking to people to understand what they want. If you don't understand what your customer needs and you're just providing services, then you're wasting somebody's money -- your money, my money and every other taxpayer's money.
"MWR is pretty basic once you understand the fundamentals, because recreation is recreation is recreation," she continued. "You start tailoring [programs] after your audience tells you what they want to occur.
"You don't provide programs and services unless you've talked to your audience," she explained. "You provide your customers the types of programs and services that they desire. Now does that mean you don't experiment, don't watch trends or do research to see what's trending? You do. You do all those things, but you have to query your audience to find out if it's something that they're interested in.
"I think MWR is pretty basic in that there is a standard of service the Army wants to provide to community members," James said. "You sort of have that framework, and within that framework you use your people [within the organization] … and make those things happen and communicate."
One area James said she wants to focus on while at JBM-HH is workforce development.
"Everything feeds back to providing a workforce that is capable, that is customer-friendly and is being nurtured … and developed in the manner they should be to do the work that needs to be done for our audience," she said. You want to have people own what they do, said James. "It requires constantly listening o your employees. You make sure people have a voice in their environment.
"If you're not confident with what you're doing, then you're not going to come to work every day and give it your all; you're not going to feel good about what you're doing," she explained. "Workforce development works towards empowering people, helping people own their job. If you feel like you're going to work for yourself every day, then you're going to give it your all."
She added that she wants to make sure FMWR provides open lines of communication with customers through the Interactive Customer Evaluation Program and other forums that provide feedback on services.
One of the things James said she's impressed with at JBM-HH is the volunteer corps that supports Army Community Service. "Many of them are long-time retirees," she said. "Everybody knows Blanche [Glymph, the volunteer supervisor]. She's an institution here."
James said she enjoys the vibrancy of the Washington D.C., region.
"What I love about this tri-state area is that there is nothing you can't find to do here. There is culture here. There is entertainment here. There are recreational activities here … sports teams and libraries. It is culturally rich. It doesn't get any better."
What James is less fond of is area traffic, which complicates the commute from her home in Lorton. "It's about 17 miles from here and it takes about 30 minutes to get here, which is only because I leave at the crack of dawn and start my day at the fitness center," she said. "I would love to be able to get to work an hour later." In her down time, James said she enjoys long walks and travel.
"I've traveled extensively. That would be my true de-stressor, because I like to get away … really separate from work," she said. "To give myself balance throughout the week, it's the gymnasium. That's my head-clearer. I walk to and from my office [Bldg. 203] to here [command headquarters] during the day -- that helps me, it's the only time when I can get away from the desk and clear my head for a minute."
James said her career choice is more a calling than a job.
"I work in MWR because I love MWR. I love what I do. I love working for and with Soldiers. I like being able to see change. That's one of the positives of being able to work with the workforce."