By Will Ravenstein, 1st Inf. Div. PostMarch 8, 2019
Fort Riley senior leaders Maj. Gen. John S. Kolasheski, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, and Col. Stephen Shrader, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Riley commander, along with Angela Watson, Operations Director, Corvias and Steve Milton, Fort Riley Chief, Housing Division, answered questions posed on social media and in person by more than 100 Fort Riley Soldiers and families during open-forum town hall meetings at Riley's Conference Center Feb. 26 and 27.
"We had a great group in here last night that provided spectacular feedback to myself and the senior commander here on the installation and to Corvias and their housing service office," Shrader said during his introduction to the second forum. "That's exactly what we're looking for. That's the purpose of these town hall meetings, to hear from the residents -- the Soldiers and families -- in the community on the housing that you have.
"That's why we have everybody gathered here today. At the end of the day the Secretary of the Army's focus and the Chief of Staff's focus is on whether we are meeting our obligations to provide safe, quality housing to the residents across the Army," Shrader said.
Fort Riley initiated a plan Feb. 20 called Operation Victory Homefront in which assistance teams traveled to each house in family housing, through March 8, to get face-to-face feedback from the residents on any issues with the homes. Big or small, no matter how insignificant the issue was, residents were encouraged to speak up to get them resolved.
"It is my responsibility to care for the 15,000 Soldiers and Airmen that are assigned to Fort Riley and their families," Kolasheski said. "That is their safety and well-being."
The teams were not conducting a standard of living inspection on the homes; they were there to seek honest feedback to take concerns to the senior leaders.
Two town hall meetings also allowed the family members and Soldiers to have their concerns addressed in person.
After more than two hours on the first day and three hours on the second, some family members felt their questions were answered -- while others left still uncertain of resolution.
"I feel like Corvias has taken some responsibility, but they have sidestepped a lot of the issues," said Kristina Vance, wife of Staff Sgt. Cody Vance, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div. "I feel like what is really going to be a big game changer is them actually acting on the stuff they sidestepped."
Kolasheski stated several times any issues raised, either at the town hall meetings or after, would be handled without retribution on the Soldier.
"For a lot of families, yes that is an honest fear," Vance said.
"I know a lot happens in this industry where a lot of people aren't putting in work orders, and that's not Corvias' fault," Vance said, citing her experience as a property manager off post. "That's our fault as residents and we need to take accountability on that as well."
Sgt. 1st Class Allan Springer, division sponsorship noncommissioned officer in charge, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Inf. Div., was there to voice his concern with the other family members. He walked away from the evening with the knowledge that Milton and his group are advocates for the Soldiers living on and off post.
He said if the Residential Communities Initiative team is there to help, then between Corvias and them as an oversight, "if we could solve it at those two levels then, I think, a lot of things will be better."
Springer said the last thing a Soldier needs when gone is the distraction of home care and maintenance.
"It's the last thing that you need whether you are deployed to Afghanistan or you're gone to [the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California] rotation or just at a place where maybe your communication between (you and) your spouse are affected," he said. "Those problems that you're trying to handle they have to do alone. As long as the support continues, with the leadership and what they are trying to do it will work out in the end. I just think there are some key things that need to be dialed in on."
Both Vance and Springer praised the maintenance crews they have dealt with in their homes. It comes down to communication between the parties involved, they said.
"I think a big thing is a lack of communication," Springer said. "From my standpoint, I think the maintenance has been (good)," he said. "They've always asked, 'is there anything I can do? What else needs to be fixed?' The decisions inside the office to whether they fix something or they don't fix something, that's going to be your big problem."
Other issues raised during the town hall meeting included: fees for pets, carpet life and cleaning issues, changes to the Residential Responsibility Guide and how damages charged to a previous tenant went unfixed.
During the town hall meetings, family members asked their questions and received answers; however, several questions on specific issues that needed more in-depth responses were referred to the command team, Milton or Watson to have them addressed in one-on-one sessions.
During each town hall meeting, the command team informed those present and those watching via the live stream on Facebook that if work orders or other concerns were not handled in a timely manner, residents could escalate the concern using the 24/7 Leader Hot Line at 785-239-2222.
Here someone will take the concern and raise it with leadership to have it addressed.
Residents were also encouraged to fill out the Interactive Customer Evaluation form for Corvias, ice.disa.mil/index.cfm?fa=cardf6233a77b4d6d690ea392574a28aaf1c6a62b271f8c38cd807f27333a1474c9759fd3f95ac1883610d338a4dccec2108816b5574312e26669ebb1b4d8863e604sp=103584f6233a77b4d6d690ea392574a28aaf1c6a62b271f8c38cd807f27333a1474c9759fd3f95ac1883610d338a4dccec2108816b5574312e26669ebb1b4d8863e604s=17&dep=*DoD. Residents were encouraged to provide contact information so leadership could respond.
Shrader said he sees the log of ICE comments and gets with the directors of each directorate on Fort Riley when there is an issue.
As much as the command team said they would have liked to answer all questions posed during the session, that wasn't possible. However, there is a system in place to address them.
Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs Officer, posted on the comments using the Danger 6 tag, "We understand the concern that not every issue will be resolved in the room tonight. Remember that all of these issues are being noted by the chain of command, who will be following up on them."
That follow-up is something Vance hopes to see as a result of the town hall meetings and the quarterly ones to be scheduled in the future.
"I feel like there are some productive conversations that came out," she said. "But then again they can talk the talk -- but can they walk the walk?"
On March 4 and 5 the Department of the Army Inspector General held three additional town hall meeting sessions to gain the perspective of family housing residents and administered Resident Satisfaction Surveys. Neither Fort Riley leadership nor Corvias representatives were present to allow candid dialogue to occur.