By Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle JrMarch 7, 2019
On March 1, we held our Fort Jackson Housing Town Hall meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to hear and resolve the concerns and issues of residents of on-post housing. The main piece of equipment required was not a pen and pad, but a pair of good listening ears. As I listened to the many comments from the audience of over 170 people, I walked away with many of my own thoughts and feelings.
What I want to share in this article is what I heard, saw, believe and think:
Heard: When the Soldiers and Family Members who had the courage to openly express their issues and concerns, you could hear the angst, anxiety, stress, hurt and anger that a lack of focus on housing has caused. Many tried to suppress all of those emotions in an effort to paint a clear and concise picture. In some cases, years of frustration could be heard in simple sentences. If people would have blind-folded themselves and listened to only the voices, all of these emotions regardless of how well suppressed would have rung in their ears like thunder.
Saw: I observed genuine pleas for help, a willingness (although somewhat reluctant) to reach out to receive an olive branch from us as leaders and our civilian housing partner, in our case Balfour Beatty. Nevertheless, the tears of pain, the furrowed brows of disbelief and the quizzical looks could be seen scattered across the audience at any given time during the two-hour-plus conversation. One may ask, "Why?" I informed those gathered that we would be having a "Crucial Conversation." A crucial conversation has three main components: 1) Strong emotions; 2) high stakes; and 3) varying opinions. We had all three components. Our high stakes are related to life, health and safety. The strong emotions were extensions of a violation of trust, a lack of faith and a lack of confidence in our leaders and our partner. Opinions varied as to the causes, fault and ways to fix our problems. We certainly had a crucial conversation.
Believe: I believe that by hearing all the voices and by establishing the safety for all concerns to be heard, we were clearly presented with a mirror. The mirror that our community painted for us, allowed us to see where the issues are, what the issues are and the pain that those issues have caused. I believe that our Soldiers and Families are resilient and can weather any storm that they find themselves in. However, I know that if a helping hand is not extended in a meaningful way, our Soldiers and Families will walk away. As a commander, I know that I have an obligation to meet the requirements of exemplary conduct as described in Army Regulation 600-20 title 10 US Code indicates that commanders will "promote and safeguard the morale, the physical well-being and the general welfare of the officers and enlisted persons under their command or charge." I believe that every commander on our installation will live up to this requirement for our Soldiers and Families in an effort to ensure that they don't endure this storm alone or for very long.
Think: I think we have an opportunity to restore faith, trust and confidence in our leadership and our partner. I have failed my command as a leader and our partner has failed our Soldiers and Families as a provider. The Under Secretary of the Army, Hon. Ryan D. McCarthy, stated it best by simply saying that the situation that we find ourselves in regarding our family housing is "embarrassing." There is no simpler way to state it. I also think that we have a short timeframe in which to show immediate improvement. We won't rebuild trust overnight, it will take months and years of sustained effort. I think that with a commitment from everyone responsible and in order to be held accountable, every leader, manager, customer service representative and worker must be committed to being empathetic, willing to listen and dedicated to doing their job better than they ever had.
As a final thought, our road ahead will not be easy. Our residents have a part to play. This is merely a humble "ask" and not a directed task. Voices will need to be continually heard, both verbally and virtually. We must use chains of command, surveys, feedback cards and hotlines to express, not only our satisfaction, but more importantly, our dissatisfaction. One town hall will not resolve our issues, but we need to sustain the momentum of feedback and voices being heard. I would implore the residents of Fort Jackson to use every means at their disposal to provide feedback. This will be our primary way of checking and validating our progress.