By Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle Jr.January 31, 2019
As I visit various areas on post I have heard numerous, recurring comments about the condition of Fort Jackson's infrastructure and education. Our facilities are ageing, and I want you to know I am aware of these conditions and what we are doing to improve the quality of life for our Soldiers, civilians and Family members.
What's on my mind:
1. HVACs -- One thing I understand clearly is just how important Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning is here in South Carolina. I've lived it; many of our workplaces are superhot in the summer and supercold in the winter. The Directorate of Public Works has made great progress over the past five years investing over $10 million in HVAC repair and replacements in order to keep our buildings comfortable. However, much more work is needed.
Way ahead: Quality of Life in the workplace matters. I will ensure limited funding fixes the "worst first," as well ensure high priority facilities (dining facilities, barracks, Child, Youth Services) receive robust preventive maintenance.
2. Education -- For more than 50 years Fort Jackson has been partnered with Richland School District Two in the pursuit of educational opportunities for our children. Although the strength of the ties between the installation and Richland 2 have ebbed and flowed over the years (improving when Fort Jackson makes education a priority and declining when we are distracted by other concerns), but one truth remains constant -- Richland 2 is our school district. Over the past year we have devoted a lot of leader energy to being better partners to Richland 2, and the district has responded by energetically engaging the unique challenges that face military children. Our renewed connection to the district coincided with its adoption of a new and clear vision for itself: Richland 2 as the premiere district in the state. The district has not fully achieved that visions yet; like all organizations, it faces its own set of challenges. Recent assessments conducted by the South Carolina Department of Education indicate that Richland 2 schools are neither the best nor the worst in the state. Richland 2 is committed to doing better, and we are committed to helping. And here is the good news: military children consistently score higher than statewide averages on standardized tests regardless of where they go to school. In other words, not only are we as an installation committed to helping improve Richland 2, but the presence of our children helps move the district in the right direction. And let's be crystal clear: it is in the best interest of all of us that Richland 2 achieves its goal of being the premiere school district in South Carolina.
Way ahead: Our school liaisons, our staff, and our community leaders are all involved in working with Richland 2 to provide the best possible educational opportunities to our children. Richland 2 is attentive to our needs -- we have a voice in local education policy and practice. We will continue to use our quarterly Education Advisory Committee to solicit feedback from within the installation, and use periodic education updates at the Community Information Exchange to let everyone know how we are progressing. Let us know what you think!
3. Roads and Grounds -- As I mentioned earlier, our post is old, but it is our post. Several roads are in desperate need of repaving, as well as parking lots overdue for resurfacing and line striping. My first priority is to fix the roads where our Soldiers-in-training run. We can replace a few shock absorbers and tires here or there, but we can't replace or fully repair injuries to Soldiers caused by those same bumpy and pothole-laden roads. In the last five years, we've invested $12 million road maintenance and repair. Much of this effort was focused on physical training routes (Jackson, Kemper, Forrest, Kershaw), but we've also upgraded the traffic signals along Strom Thurmond Boulevard, repaired 10 bridges and culverts, and completed major resurfacing projects on main roads including Jackson, Marion, and Lee.
Way Ahead: In fiscal year 2018, the DPW completed a comprehensive assessment of all paved areas across post for a program called PAVER. PAVER performs multiple levels of analysis to show us where best to allocate scarce resources. The cost estimate to bring all roads up to good condition far exceeds available resources and I am committed to advocate for additional funding.
Until permanent repairs are funded we will continue to patch problematic potholes. Lastly, I've challenged DPW's engineers to come up with innovative pavement preservation solutions to extend the useful life of our roads and parking lots.
4. Electricity and Natural Gas: Much of Fort Jackson's electrical and gas infrastructure is 50-80 years old with decades of unfunded, backlog maintenance. Furthermore, 162 miles of overhead lines are vulnerable to tree debris, which ultimately results in unexpected outages.
Way Ahead: Fort Jackson is privatizing our natural gas and electric utility operations and maintenance. In September 2019, SCE&G will begin to upgrade and operate our natural gas system. By May 2019, Dominion Energy will assume full control of the electric infrastructure. These contracts will correct $100 million in system deficiencies, as well as provide rapid, robust response to unexpected outages. We will see new equipment, new lines and new transformers installed throughout the post. These upgrades will require some short-term power outages, but those will be kept to a minimum and thoroughly pre-coordinated with those affected. Over the next five years, I encourage your patience as these old systems finally receive the investment and modernization they sorely need.
Most Pleased: Our renewed team spirit as an installation. Your continued efforts to support your post go a long way. Whether you are new to Fort Jackson or have been here a while, come and see what is new and what has changed. Every post is different in their own way and things do change over time. Your feedback is always welcomed and encouraged in an effort to get all of our community to consistently support our events and let us know what events are most important to you.
Area to Improve: Communication Flow. As I tell people, "you can hear, but it doesn't mean that you are listening." There are many daily challenges and frictions that can be resolved through communication. To do this, we all must demonstrate the ability to do 3 things well: 1) have patience 2) be empathetic 3) actually engage in dialogue vs. a one way discussion. Listen closely, listen carefully, and try to understand the other person. We will reduce many frictions and we will solve even more problems through effective communication. We have over 20 mediators across the installation whose sole function is to help resolve issues within our workforce.
If you'd like to comment or provide feedback on various issues around Fort Jackson visit my Facebook page (@FortJacksonCommandingGeneral) where this article will be posted. Your issue may or may not be addressed in my next column but stay tuned. You might discover issues you have are the same as the CG and post command sergeant major. If you would like to remain anonymous you can send a private message to that page as well. Your comments will remain anonymous and go to one person. If you have a topic that involves SHARP, illegal behavior / acts, other, it will be provided to the appropriate authorities and not addressed in a public forum.