By Michael StrasserFebruary 20, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 16, 2018) -- It was Super Bowl Sunday and Hal Greer wasn't at a party with family and friends. He was working on post - but not in his office. Fort Drum's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director was tending bar.
And if you were to ask him, he really was with family and friends because Greer was among service members, family members and colleagues - the people for whom he dedicated a career of military and government service that spanned several decades.
Cindy Romig, manager at the Commons, said that is something Greer is known to do. She said that rarely an FMWR event goes by where he isn't shaking the hand of a Soldier or chatting with community members.
"He simply reaches out to everyone, all the time," Romig said. "Pouring drinks and bartending - that's just something that he loves to do for Soldiers. I think the reason for that is he gets to be right across from you, talking to you, face-to-face. He loved that interaction."
What normally would have been a relatively low-key event, grew exponentially as hundreds of visiting Marines here for training were bussed to the Commons for the game. The event was hosted at the Winners Circle Sports Bar, but the FMWR staff opened Buster's Brew Pub to accommodate a larger crowd.
Romig remembered another time when Greer helped to bartend a busy social event - Right Arm Night - where he set up the Soldiers with a free tab out of his own pocket. Romig said that the Soldiers didn't know who Greer was, but they were in awe that somebody would do that for them.
"The look on his face, just doing that for the Soldiers, it was so rewarding to see," she said. "That's what he is all about."
Romig said that it didn't matter that Greer was only weeks away from retiring after 53 years of federal service, because it is in his nature to make people feel special. She said that is why it never seemed out of place for a director to be serving drinks or seating people at the restaurant.
"It's almost like it is his mission, because he is that way with everyone; it doesn't matter who you are, what rank, or where you work," she said.
Arriving at Fort Drum
Greer had worked in government service for 30 years in Europe - 17 in Germany and 13 in Italy - before arriving at Fort Drum in 1999.
"When I came to Fort Drum, it was almost like a calling," he said. "There was so much to do, initially, but I only thought I'd stay here five years to get this plan started here."
Greer employed a savvy business acumen to revitalize struggling FMWR facilities. He closed the Arts and Crafts Center - which he said he had been a patron of - and converted it into Atkins Functional Fitness Center. Romig said that the Commons had been unprofitable for years before Greer temporarily shut it down for restructuring.
"Mr. Greer had a great background for this - I think he ran about 13 clubs in Europe - but his real expertise is business," Romig said. "He amazes me for what he has accomplished here. He's probably the smartest person I've ever worked with."
"She's had 17 years of profit which she has given back to the community," Greer said. "So it's become the 'Cheers' place. Not because of me, because of her. Maybe I just influenced her a little, giving her a little insight, a little defensive backbone in how we should proceed. And for years, she has made it profitable."
Greer said that he loved the business side of FMWR - the money management and financial planning needed to keep the organization thriving. He attributes every success story to subordinate management and staff - "the champions" as he calls them.
"The only thing I will ever take credit for is that I was very careful about hiring people," Greer said. "I was very careful in developing what I call a coordinated team effort where we all came together and did things as a team."
Greer was also instrumental in converting most of the FMWR workforce into Non-Appropriated Fund Employees, and he said that was important in creating a better business model and having greater flexibility.
"You have to understand how to make a profit," he said. "You have to be a business manager and be there to back your subordinate managers, because they are the ones who do the heavy lifting to make profits. You just give them the tools and arm them so they can serve the public, and our public is the Soldiers and Family Members."
Greer said there were lean years when FMWR staff did not have the funds to purchase new equipment for some facilities, but they would make do by cherry-picking used items at the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office.
"The money that would have normally gone to buy new equipment we used as savings that we would spend to build Remington Park and other things," he said. "We did that for six years. One thing we are all proud of, collectively, is that we built Remington Park. We didn't get money from somewhere to build it. That was money we generated, and it was developed, piece by piece, each year."
He said that developing the campgrounds at Remington Park was an idea based on the success of another installation.
"Cabins appeared to me to be the place to go," he said. "I had gone down to Fort Story (Virginia), and I looked at the cabins down there and, of course, they're all booked out in the summertime. They had a perfect model and so I started the coordination and gained the approval of the commanding general back then. We went on this annual construction program. First we bought five cabins, and then four more, and we got all the way to 28 cabins. Now it has become the most popular place in the summer for Soldiers."
It's because he remembers when amenities were few that Greer can now enthuse over things like the tablecloths at the Commons or the towel racks at the fitness centers.
"Now, we are the only installation that provides towels at our gyms," Greer said. "If you go into the fitness room at a nice hotel, they have racks of towels. Don't our Soldiers deserve that? I mean, they're defending our nation's freedoms, so they deserve first-class service and attention."
Greer said that the Warrior Adventure Quest program that Gene Spencer developed at Outdoor Recreation is an example of providing activities for Soldiers - ATV riding, snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, to name a few - that match the rugged nature of their profession.
"Getting nine guys to steer a raft is quite an accomplishment," said Greer. "It takes teamwork, and if you can do that and have fun as a team, then I think you're going to fight better as a team in combat."
Lessons learned from war
Greer said that the operational tempo between training and deploying is so high that it becomes even more critical for FWMR to provide the fun. He said that because of his experience serving in Vietnam and having seen the effects that war had on service members - separations and divorces, depression and suicide - he felt better prepared to anticipate some of the needs of the current warfighters.
"I had experienced that in Vietnam and I lived through the challenges of that time," he said. "If you're going to fight, you had to fight well, and they needed to know that their Families were being taken care of."
During the Vietnam War, Greer served as a UH-1D Iroquois helicopter pilot with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company, and was based in Tay Ninh, less than three miles from the Cambodian border. During his final combat mission in 1968, Greer and his crew were all injured when their helicopter was shot down. Everyone survived and all were medically evacuated out of the country. In June 2012, the Fort Drum chapter of the Army Aviation Association of America presented Greer with the Order of Saint Michael award for his exceptional aviation career.
"The Army gave me everything, everything," Greer said. "I didn't have that strong environment of support when I was growing up, and so I went into the Army, and from that day on I learned that what you put into something, that's what you get back. There are no shortcuts; you can't cheat on life. I've just loved every aspect of the military."
Greer said that to serve Soldiers today requires an understanding of the hardships that they and their Families endure.
"It's not just deploying and training and being out here in the snow, but family life issues, the financial impacts of constant rotations, transitioning out of the military and the fear that goes with it, the whole gamut," he said. "The people I work for, my subordinates, have learned that intensely."
One of the lessons Greer said he learned from military service was how to empower Soldiers and set them up for success. He said that FMWR provides 10th Mountain Division (LI) units that opportunity when they conduct social functions.
"When a unit has an organizational day, we give them all the equipment they need free of charge, and they go to the sports field with grills and inflatables," he said. "We're not doing the work. We issue them the equipment, and we want them to bring it back clean. Then we issue it to the next brigade going out. So we provide them the tools to be the champions. What we've done is double the capacity in serving our Soldiers. They want that sense of community within their unit, they want that unit integrity and they're out there cooking and serving up the food. We just give them what they need to do it."
His official retirement date is Feb. 28, but that calendar day was disputed in his mind.
"I was going to go longer - I could go longer," Greer said. "It got to be, when do you retire? I had just turned 75. Am I crazy? Who else on the installation is 75, but I still feel like I could do one-arm pushups."
A combination of wanting to spend more time with his wife, of nearly 52 years, and having the time to catch up on a collateral checklist that was hard to make time for - things like auto repairs - gave him cause to consider it strongly.
Greer said that he plans to remain in the North Country, which he has grown to love over the years.
"If I go back over these almost 20 years I have been here, and my plan was to only be here five years, so why did I stay? The North Country people up here are wonderful," he said. "If you get into trouble snowmobiling, there will be 25 come along and help you. They will do anything for you up here, and they don't even know you. They are so used to helping each other that it is really such a precious characteristic they have."
Greer said that the difficulty in retiring was the timing - finding the lull in a robust FMWR schedule when he could leave assured that events like the next Riverfest and Mountainfest were finalized. If there is any knowledge to pass on to his successor, Greer said that he hopes to have a chance to share it personally. The most succinct advice would be: "Trust your team."
"Your people will lead you to success - it's not about you, it's about your people," he said. "It's about having a vision and giving your people the support to carry it out."
Karin Sikirica, Child and Youth Services coordinator, said that the quality she admired most about Greer was his ability to rally the staff.
"When Mr. Greer arrived at Fort Drum, he really made a point to include us all - he made all of MWR a team," she said. "He brought all the agencies together and created a real, true team that worked together, and we did everything together. When we had special events, we were all there to help out. That's one of the special things that he did for us, building us up as a team. He was also a great mentor."
Donna Orvis, FMWR marketing manager, has known Greer since he first arrived at Fort Drum. She said that the organization was still transitioning at the time to civilian leadership, so she had thought having Greer as the director would bring continuity.
"I think Mr. Greer's legacy has been the lasting partnership developed across agency lines, installation partners, private organizations and the local community," she said. "So, I think even though Mr. Greer is retiring, his impact will be a long lasting tradition on how we do business."
Orvis said that Greer has always valued a good work ethic and he rewards those who exceed the standard. She said that he often reminded staff to "always be relevant, don't become complacent."
Romig said that she learned to be a better communicator, a better team-builder and a better businessperson because of Greer.
"There is so much I can say about Mr. Greer but I think, overall, he made me a better person," she said. "He taught me to stand on my own two feet."
Greer was honored among family, friends and colleagues Feb. 15 at Memorial Park when Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, presented him with the American flag that had just been lowered at division headquarters.
"At this Memorial Park that we hold so dear to our 10th Mountain Division and remembering all those who sacrificed so much, this is where we honor our heroes," Piatt said. "And this is a special hero, because this hero built the mountain. He has done so much for so many, in uniform and out of uniform, and there is nothing he would not do for Soldiers."
Piatt said that Greer had mentored a remarkable group of people at FMWR, as evident by the gathering on a cold, rainy afternoon.
"He always got Soldiers the support they needed and he always did it without bringing praise to himself, always diverting the praise to others," Piatt said. "You have recruited quite a crop of people here, very talented. Hal has taught me, and has taught many, that if you surround yourself with intelligent and talented people, the day ends better and it ends a lot earlier. Hal managed talent, spotted it out and groomed it all the way. We'll never forget you. You've made it to the top of the mountain, but it's your foundation that holds this installation, and many of those who serve this division, up."
Greer thanked everyone for attending the flag presentation and acknowledged a few former FMWR colleagues and distinguished guests presented. In his remarks, Greer couldn't help but leave with one last joke about his retirement before refocusing back to the people who matter to him.
"Regarding my retirement, I'm just kidding, I'm going to stay," he said. "But you know, going down to the Commons today, it was packed with Soldiers. And to see them smiling makes every day worth it, every day. I'm just sorry I have to quit. I could go on another 10 years. I salute all of you, and I salute my special staff who are all wonderful. I hate to give them up because they are all so talented, but they will continue to serve Fort Drum and this great division."