FORT LEE, Va. (April 24, 2019) -- "As a leader, someone can sit in their office and give direction or they can be present to assess how things are going and what changes may be needed," observed Command Sgt. Maj. Melissa A. Judkins, the senior enlisted leader for the San Antonio-based Installation Management Command.
"I think presence is absolutely a must," she continued. "It does two things in my opinion: No.1, you get to find out what the problem sets are and how the command can help, and No. 2, (the workforce recognizes) you actually care."
Belief in that credo brought the 29-year Soldier to Fort Lee for an April 17-18 visit as a command representative of IMCOM, which is responsible for installation infrastructure and services such as fire, police, housing and child care.
She spent her time here engaging leaders, visiting facilities and talking with troops across the spectrum. Generally, she was struck by the installation's aesthetics.
"It's a gorgeous post," she acknowledged. "Fort Lee is fortunate to have as many newer facilities as it does. There are some older structures, but the amount of new builds helps the installation use its sustainment dollars well and direct modernization and restoration funds for other things besides strictly repair and renovation. It's a blessing to have as many new facilities as this command does here."
The implementation of 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decisions brought $1.2 billion in new construction to Fort Lee, mostly in the form of state-of-the-art training facilities. Additionally, the installation's housing is on the newer side of the Army inventory, with most of the privately managed units being less than 15 years old.
Judkins said her visit was partly related to recent concerns about privatized housing here and at other military installations. Though problems are much greater at other locations, she said military members and their families Army-wide need assurances the leadership is working to solve maintenance and quality of life issues.
"If you don't take the opportunity to help people understand you care, then the turmoil at the bottom can be worse than anything that happens at the top," she said after recounting trips made to three states over the past three weeks. "So, being at the different installations explaining why things are done and helping take back (those garrison's) problems to help fix them is important."
Judkins said that when installation housing problems stemming from a lack of oversight gained national attention last fall, Army leadership mobilized with vigor and resolve.
"I watched this true concern by leaders across the Army that we had to do something different," she recalled when the story emerged. "We had to attack the problem. We could not sit back and watch it as a spectator. We had to be in the game. There was and is a true concern at all levels of the Army to try and get this right."
As a result, "The Army is working with the other services in conjunction with partners (privatized housing managers) to create a bill of rights for Soldiers when they sign for partnership homes," she said. "We're also working to ensure that if Soldiers have life, health or safety problems not just the partner knows but the chain of command knows."
The crux of housing problems, Judkins said, have been maintenance issues leaders were not aware of due to how the privatized housing agreements were structured.
"The partners have the ultimate responsibility of performing the maintenance, but we have the ultimate responsibility to care for our Soldiers enough to ensure they are taken care of," she said. "We did not stay engaged enough. Our eyes were not on the ball. Now our eyes are on the ball, and the partner's eyes are on the ball, too."
Housing occupants also bear responsibilities to notify leaders when maintenance issues are not being resolved, Judkins emphasized.
"We as leaders didn't do what was needed to make sure our Soldiers know they could trust us to help them," she said. "We have to reconfirm to our Soldiers that we as leaders are here to support them and make them feel comfortable enough to say there's something wrong."
In addition to making adjustments to the privatized housing program, IMCOM is due to receive more resources to bolster its oversight efforts.
"For RCI housing, the Army is providing us with 114 authorizations," she said. "We will have the personnel to go back and perform quality-control inspections of the work completed by partners. That's something we didn't have the manpower to do in the past."
Fort Lee has already added three inspectors to its Garrison Housing Services Office to conduct such work.
There also is a similar commitment to support barracks maintenance, Judkins noted.
Lastly, Judkins said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville have strong interests in holding responsible parties accountable.
"The chief and the vice are going to make sure leaders are taking care of their Soldiers," she said. "That point is unquestionably clear."
In addition to talking with garrison and privatized housing officials and visiting with Soldiers at their installation residences, Judkins' itinerary included speaking with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers representatives and touring barracks old and new. It was an opportunity to learn about Lee's military transition function and openly chat with garrison personnel.
In regards to the latter, she said she particularly enjoyed the casual atmosphere afforded her during Right Arm Night on April 17 at the Lee Club's Overtime Sports Bar.
"It was really good to see all the garrison employees there," she recalled. "Now granted, some of them were leaders, but it's just good to see because it's an indication there's a healthy environment."
In reference to other issues, Judkins said she is proud of IMCOM's ongoing efforts to improve barracks living conditions and is enthusiastic about its work to enhance military childcare, specifically ways to reduce wait lists at child development centers.
"What we've done to try to solve them is use a Tiger Team of CPAC, ourselves and other agencies, host hiring fairs, then hire qualified personnel immediately," she said.
Another wait-list mitigation measure is an IMCOM program in which childcare providers may transfer from one CDC to another without undergoing the same backgrounds checks, Judkins said, adding that IMCOM is also studying ways to increase hourly services at the CDCs.
In the area of fitness, IMCOM is looking at ways to certify instructors at the installation level and is seeking to allow employees three hours of exercise time per week during duty hours on a permanent basis.
Employees are currently permitted three hours of on-duty fitness time for six months.
Highlighting other efforts, Judkins said she is proud of IMCOM's Service Culture Campaign that aims to improve customer service.
"It's really getting down to the basics of how you treat one another," she said. "Not only are our customers the outsiders, they are also the insiders. If we treat customers across directorates and staffs well and the leadership treats them well - and we pledge that we will -trust will increase. As a result, there will be a lot more growth. I think it's a win-win for the Army."
Judkins began her tenure at IMCOM nearly three years ago and is scheduled to depart in November. She expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity she has been given to serve as a leader in an organization that oversees services and facilities support, impacting 52,000 employees at more than 150 installations worldwide.