By Margaret Steele, Fort Belvoir Public AffairsJune 26, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (June 26, 2014) - Don Carr has been in Army public affairs for 42 years, 21 of them as an enlisted journalist and public affairs noncommissioned officer. He has served in just about every facet of Army Public Affairs, from unit-level to Headquarters Department of the Army. Carr is a former chief of Army newspapers and director at Army News and was editor of 11 Army, command information, papers and publications.
After retiring from active duty, he returned to Army Public Affairs in civil service in 1993 and was editor of the Belvoir Eagle from March 1993 to 1995. He then became the command information chief at Belvoir's Public Affairs Office and was eventually named director of public affairs, Fort Belvoir, in February 2001.
Carr retires Friday after 21 years in the Army and almost 22 years as a civilian in Belvoir's Garrison Public Affairs Office.
Public affairs as a function
After long thought, Carr said he's most proud of the successes he and the public affairs office has had in helping commanders and directors.
"They've come to understand public affairs as a leadership function. As a tool … Not just for chronicling a story, but for helping craft any and all stories in the first place," he said.
"Public affairs can add to their undertakings, whether it's building a new gate, changing hours of operation, starting a new policy, because of what we can bring to the table, in terms of asking questions, brainstorming and possibly thinking outside of the box," Carr said.
"As we go around a table, and each functional chief reports where they are on things, the PAO and JAG are often the ones to ask, 'Why would we do it that way?' We prompt discussion that might not otherwise happen," the director said.
Col. Gregory D. Gadson, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Belvoir commander for the past two years whose command assignment ended Wednesday, said of Carr, "Don approaches his position as garrison PAO with a passion unmatched by any director."
Don Dees, garrison chief of information strategies in the PAO, has worked with Don Carr for more than 10 years and works as the acting PAO when needed. Dees echoed Gadson's thoughts about Carr.
"The zest and enthusiasm he has for how Belvoir goes about its mission is what I'll remember most," Dees said.
"He'll leave a legacy because he's trained military journalists and mentored civilians. His influence extends far beyond the garrison, because of people who have worked with him in the past and then gone on in Army and DoD public affairs shops all over the world," Dees said.
"Working with Don has given me an appreciation for the importance of providing advice and counsel to commanders and their staff.
"I know I've learned more from his guidance and grown more from the empowerment he's provided, than would have been possible otherwise," Dees said.
Carr thought for a while before deciding what some of the strongest memories for him are during his time at Belvoir.
Carr remembered, "In late 2002, the D.C. Sniper was creating havoc around the Beltway. The entire region locked down and Fairfax County canceled its youth activities' programs in the middle of youth football season, to protect kids' safety.
Somebody here had the idea: 'What if we did the playoffs here at Belvoir?'
"So, Long Parade Field and Pullen Field were divided into kid-football fields, lined and everything.
That was a sight to see looking out this window," Carr said, pointing to his view of the parade field.
"We were very quiet about it. We worked with Fairfax County Recreation and told the parents and players we couldn't take big family crowds. And, it worked," Carr said.
"We had parking going on all over the place. Thousands of young kids played here, all day long. A local high school even had their championship game on Belvoir, close to the time the sniper suspects were caught," he said.
At first, when media called, we told them the games weren't open to the press. Then, eventually, the county playing all of its youth football on Belvoir became a good-news story.
Without Belvoir and the relationship it had with the surrounding communities and county, those kids' playing season would have been over," Carr said.
"We made a lot of good things happen just by talking with each other. Community relations, to a point, is parades, demos, the Army going out and showing our stuff. But, mainly, it's communications, relationships, being a part of the larger community and accepting the responsibilities needed as part of being a community.
"Few people know this about me: I never expected, as an internal, newspaper guy, to come to appreciate ComRel like I did, in terms of interacting with people. We've established and developed genuine relationships with people so much that they come in and rally with you to help, if needed.
"Belvoir Garrison is one of some 150 organizations on post. Garrison's mission is to keep Fort Belvoir running," Carr said. "When we go outside the gate to do ComRel downtown, ideally, we're doing something that represents all of Belvoir and not just garrison. We invite NGA, the hospital, PEO Soldier … All are examples of the variety of functions and missions that we do on Belvoir."
"If I have any regrets, one of them would be that we haven't done our jobs to really get Belvoir people to turn out, en masse, at some events we're involved in outside the gates of Fort Belvoir.
When they go home, some go quite far from here. It's understandable, on the one hand, they might not be receptive to attending our events because they just want to battle the commute and get home."
"I define a lot of my time here in terms of the successes we've had," Carr said.
"BRAC 2005 took everybody's breath away. Shortly after we were told to expect an addition of 3,000 to 6,000 jobs to Belvoir, the BRAC Commission changed the number to 22,000. Belvoir ended up being the largest BRAC action of the entire legislation," he said.
"We had more garrison employees supporting 25,000 employees, than now, after BRAC made us have 50,000," he said.
"I think every person involved with Belvoir's BRAC realignment, whether they were adding or renovating buildings, moving, building roads, etc. Anyone involved in Belvoir's huge transformation should be very proud of what it's become. ... And, Fort Belvoir certainly wasn't shoddy to begin with."
"Belvoir employees are very good people," Carr said. "They understand their jobs of taking care of roofs, roads, safety, providing the welfare and recreation of the people here. They keep the installation alive. I feel fortunate that we've always had a group of people who want Belvoir to work and thrive.
"They have exceptionally stepped up to the plate when needed … the derecho, 9/11, Snowmageddon, any thing or entity that tests us. The garrison's people are the Number One reason we made it through any of that," Carr said. "Whatever the need of the moment was, they did it willingly. I've always been in awe of the hard-working, garrison staff as I've watched them make Belvoir happen."
One of those staff members, Lainey Morris, worked for Carr as the public affairs office's administrative support assistant for about eight years and now works for the directorate of resource management. "Don's a top-notch PAO and human being, as well. He's got a huge heart and cares deeply about Fort Belvoir and the Army as a whole," she said, adding she'll miss Carr and wishes him the best.
After so long in Fort Belvoir's public affairs corner office, and two days after the garrison change of command, Carr said, "It's time to retire. Although being between garrison commanders has little to do with it, it is better for an incoming commander to start off working with an acting director, than for a director to stay on a couple months."
"I now have eight grandchildren," Carr added. "Five of them, including twins born in May, I can see every day, if I want. The next-youngest grandkids will be out of elementary school for the summer. And, a sixth grandchild is in Norfolk, Va., if I want to go down and see him."
"Retiring has been in the back of my mind since my wife, Noy, retired near the end of 2012. We want to spend time with the grandchildren and have more time to do more things together," Carr said.
"Now, all of our kids are grown, which means that if the two of us want to have a five-day drive or trip somewhere, we're able to do it," Carr said.
"I'm looking forward to retiring. The first day after retirement will be so foreign to me. I'll sleep late, maybe until 5 a.m.," Carr predicted.
"For a while, I'll know I don't have to be anywhere but here, for right now," he said, adding he and his wife may also go on a Caribbean cruise later this year.
"I may write. I've been writing a lot on blogs and on Facebook," he said. "I may write for many reasons: to be published, to get my thoughts out and be read."
"I have a collection of memories and I'm big into history. One of the reasons I love Fort Belvoir is because of its history. I may write about that," Carr said.
Carr said he also wants to again drive the Washington Rochambeau Route to Yorktown and Jamestown, Va.
"Here at Belvoir, we're kind of in the middle of Virginia history," he said.
Becky Wriggle was Carr's PAO predecessor when he started the job in February 2001. "From those days to this, Don Carr has actively engaged all of us to open our minds; consider a variety of points of view; base our conclusions on facts, not hyperbole; decide what really, really matters to us; and to always, always put Soldiers, servicemembers and Families first," Wriggle said. "And, he did this all while making us laugh, cry and mostly, think. That's the best kind of colleagueship ... the best kind of friendship there is.
"And, that's the great thing about Don Carr -- Don is a student of the world and an educator of the world. And, that will always be true long into his next chapter and with the new generations of his growing Family," Wriggle said.