By John B. SnyderMay 26, 2009
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (26 May 2009) Aca,!aEURc After nine reductions in force at the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal since the early 1990s, it should not surprise anyone to see the community spirit of the Arsenal workforce to have declined in equal measure. But as the Troy Record's front page headline highlighted today, "Arsenal back in step," the Arsenal has rekindled the spirit.
Not since the late 1980s, has the Arsenal participated in a major parade for Veterans' Day or Memorial Day. For those who have worked at the Arsenal for more than 20 years, remember a time when the Arsenal was huge in local community events. And so does the community.
But through the years, as production requirements declined, so did its numbers of personnel. The Arsenal workforce peaked with nearly 10,000 workers during World War II, down to a little over 3,000 in the early 1980s, and as few as 400 workers by 2001. Many Arsenal 'old timers' believe that as the workforce numbers declined, so did the Arsenal's commitment to the community.
A decline, however, does not necessarily mean an abandonment of community spirit.
From a conversation last January between Mike Bush, chief steward for the National Federation of Federal Employees Union Local 2109, and John Snyder, Arsenal public affairs officer, began the awakening of the Arsenal's parade spirit.
Bush, a colorful character who is never short for a story, told Snyder about the "good old days" when the Arsenal had a significant presence in the community. He remembered when the Arsenal conducted parades and had open houses where thousands of the community would come and learn about the Arsenal.
So Bush put Snyder to a challenge. "If you (Snyder) coordinate the Arsenal's participation in a community event, the Union will be its biggest supporter. The spirit is here but we just need to wake it up," Bush proclaimed.
Snyder then turned to Arsenal Commander Col. Scott N. Fletcher for his commander's intent. Having just come off of a successful Arsenal Community Covenant Signing Ceremony in November 2008, which was hosted by four local mayors, Fletcher told Snyder to look toward established military-type events, such as Memorial Day.
Leveraging a planned event certainly provides an easier entry point, but that was not Fletcher's sole reason for looking at Memorial Day.
Whatever the Arsenal could do to bring more community awareness to the sacrifices of our nation's servicemen and women was simply the right thing to do, if the Arsenal did anything at all, said Fletcher.
An obvious choice then was to go back to the city that has been nested with Arsenal operations for nearly 200 years Aca,!aEURc the City of Watervliet.
Watervliet Mayor Michael Manning immediately offered the Arsenal a position in the city's upcoming Memorial Day Parade, as well as invited Fletcher to provide the city's Memorial Day Address.
Building an Arsenal presence in a parade after more than 20 years was no small challenge. After all, there were no plans, no historical records, no after action reviews, and maybe most importantly, no general consensus to support this endeavor.
Even when an organization has a good, active Community Relations Program, selling the "why this event is important to the command" is sometimes a tough sell to the leadership and to the workforce. The first questions usually are, "What do we get out of it, how much will it cost, and how do you measure the effects'" All good questions.
So, trying to energize the Arsenal workforce to support a parade was akin to changing organizational culture. Workers who had less than 20 years at the Arsenal had not experienced community relations events. And those workers who have been at the Arsenal for more than 20 years have survived without participating in community relations. So, an internal "sales" job was required to inspire the young and old to support.
To help generate buy-in from the Arsenal workforce, a parade committee was formed initially with representatives from the U.S. Army's BenAfAt Laboratories, NFFE Local 2109, Arsenal Business & Technology Partnership, and the Arsenal museum. It would be this core of planners who, through viral messaging, excited the workforce to support.
Success was originally defined as placing one float in the parade, enlisting the workforce to march in the parade, and for Fletcher to attend the Memorial Day Ceremony.
What actually occurred was the Arsenal provided two floats, two groups of period actors who represented the Civil War and World War II time periods, 10 vintage-era military vehicles, and most importantly, about 60 members of the Arsenal workforce who marched in the parade. Fletcher not only marched but he was also the keynote speaker at the city's Memorial Day Ceremony.
Hard to measure the effects, but when U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, New York Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, and Mayor Michael Manning all praised the Arsenal and its workforce, the effect had to be powerful.
Canestrari said, "The Arsenal and its employees are a central part of Watervliet...And things are going quite well. It's only appropriate that they're a part of this great parade."
Manning added, "I knew they were putting a couple of floats together, but this is beyond our expectations."
Maybe, the most powerful statement came from a 10-year boy who was standing on the sidelines who simply said, "The Arsenal is cool."