By Jim CunninghamJuly 13, 2008
USAG-RED CLOUD- Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Lavender served as Command Sergeant Major for the 22nd Personnel Services Battalion, Fort Lewis, WA, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq, before assuming duties as command sergeant major for USAG-Red Cloud on May 8. She is new to Korea and has found challenges, as well as delights.
"This is my first tour in Korea," says Lavender, "and the old saying is true, ' Korea is the best kept secret.' Installation Management Command is (also) new to me, but taking care of Soldiers and Families is not."
Although Lavender is experienced at taking care of Soldiers and Families, she says Korea offers new challenges. "There are challenges in my transition form U.S. Army Forces Command to IMCOM," she explains, "(but) the biggest difference is now civilians and Korean Nationals are added to the equation. The position I now hold adds a great deal of responsibilities in areas where I must focus my attention; some will require my attention more often than others, and all are important."
Lavender sees the mission and challenges in USAG-RC as opportunities to make a difference in Soldiers' lives. "We have a big footprint," she says, "but we have a good team. I think we have the most unique mission out of all the areas; especially supporting the 2nd Infantry Division and other tenant units. Even though we cannot build new facilities, we can continue to improve what we already have.
"A lot of Soldiers are coming out of the fight," she continues, "and when they here, Korea should be somewhere they can grow and build; get their education; and spend time with their Families. We are looking at bringing Families here, and that too is a challenge. We are always improving the barracks; on Casey alone, there are approximately 38 barracks undergoing renovation. We are improving and I am walking the footprint and looking at what we are doing."
For those Soldiers who compare USAG-RC with other areas in Korea and wonder why they can't get the same improvements, Lavender has an explanation.
"We are special in USAG-RC," says Lavender. "Right now, we have a special challenge ahead of us. We are moving to the one-plus-one barracks; meaning I have one Soldier living in a room and sharing a bathroom. We are improving the interior of barracks. Some units are only getting a face lift -- painting the outside of the barracks -- but we are looking at safety and lighting. Are we going to have the Taj Mahal here in USAG-RC' The answer is no, but we are going to have good looking barracks a Soldier will be proud to live in."
The biggest mission within IMCOM is not just taking care Soldiers, says Lavender.
"How can I make a Soldier want to re-enlist; what will convince the Soldier to stay' ... taking care of their Families. This is why IMCOM is here. This is what our Civilians strive to do, and our Korean counterparts strive to do. If a Soldier today is offered a $60,000 job, what could I offer to convince the Soldier to stay' This is why the Army is focused on a better quality of life for Soldiers and their Families."
Lavender sees Korea coming a long way in making IMCOM goals a reality. " Korea has come a long way in providing for Soldiers," she says. "We are not yet at the top, but we are definitely not at the bottom."
Many changes are slated for Korea to make it the assignment of choice, Lavender indicates. "Because of the tremendous turnover we are having, the Army is looking at making Korea a two to three year assignment. The biggest challenge to doing this is schools. We do not have Department of Defense schools here.
"The other challenge is what to do about the children not attending school," says Lavender. "We have the Pear Blossom Cottage, but it is not a child development center. Improving the infrastructure to include these things is overwhelming. Although these challenges are daunting, 2ID is looking at it; IMCOM is providing support, so right now it is still in the brainstorming stage."
Family Readiness Groups have met all challenges since the Global War on Terrorism broke out, says Lavender. "The FRG actually took the forefront. At first, we were asking them to do more than they were designed to do. Now the FRG has a new job in supporting Families. They are the ones who can reach out and touch the Soldier when they are in need, and I take my hat off to them."
Lavender sees improvements gaining in USAG-RC.
"We have taken leaps and bounds in a short period of time," she says. "I believe we are more than halfway to our goals at this time."