Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, joined personnel from U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll and the Director of Public Works to tour and inspect construction and renovation sites around the garrison community.
The general's visit was part of an initiative led by senior U.S. military leaders in spring 2019 to address reported concerns about the quality and safety of military housing. Army-wide leaders visited quarters on bases and garrisons throughout the nation to review firsthand the domiciles and maintenance plans in place to assure that homes remain safe for occupancy.
On USAG-KA, Dickinson received a briefing on the status of the garrison's construction schedule before embarking on a windshield tour of the sites with USAG-KA Commander Col. James DeOre, Command Sgt. Maj. Kenyatta Gaskins, Director of Public Works James Heidle, and Shawn Shelton, DPW engineer and master planner.
The first stop for the delegation was in historic "Navy housing," erected in the 1950s and '60s, now occupied by active duty military and Department of Defense civilian personnel. Dickinson met with family members in the homes and viewed improvements made to those homes.
According to Heidle, the maintenance issues addressed in the homes ranged from electrical work to HVAC upkeep, to patching of interior domicile ceiling cracks and concrete spalling due to a buildup of salt, moisture and rust.
Moving forward with the USAG-KA upkeep plan, DPW has added regular maintenance processes such as grading property around a domicile to allow soil to drain rainwater. DPW staff are also reviewing the process for ordering materials to restore and maintain older structures.
"We are listening to what our customers are saying," said Shelton. "We are working to get the reordering points for materials like air filters and light bulbs where they need to be to complete repairs on time."
Improvements to the Garrison
The team viewed sites for future construction around USAG-KA, to include the Bucholz Army Airfield airstrip and air operations building, the site of a future ambulatory care clinic, and North Point Army housing area scheduled to be demolished.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Kara Larson, Echo Pier Project Engineer Richard Zaragoza and San Juan Construction Project Manager Donald Stevens met with Dickinson at the pier to deliver a status report of the ongoing pier repair and restoration process.
After that, it was off to the west end of the island for a visit to the shoreline metals clean-up removal project. There the team met with KFS, LLC Operations Manager Sam Tayloe and HDR Environmental, Operations and Construction, Inc. Archaeologist Caitlin Stewart and viewed the World War II-era heavy artillery recovered in the cleanup.
The Future For USAG-KA
Heidle says in the next five to 10 years, garrison residents can expect big changes, as DPW gives the island a facelift.
"Realistically, we are looking at a lot of future construction," he said.
The garrison plans to add new living quarters and a new clinic, renovate homes and install a seawater air conditioning system that will augment traditional HVAC systems with renewable energy technology. New outdoor spaces for recreational activities and service roads are also on their way.
"My favorite projects are community-based," said Heidle. "We recently demolished the skate park, handball court and Richardson Theater projection booth for life, health and safety issues. We are actively seeking suggestions for something for families and kids. … For me to see the projects come to fruition and be awarded--that's where I get my satisfaction."
Heidle credits his team of five engineers, USACE, support from on-island contractors and the team of more than 250 local nationals working on the project with its success. He reminds the community to be mindful of traffic stops and to adhere to all upcoming road closures for safety while traveling the island.
"You're not going to many other places in the DOD and have this volume of construction work going on," Shelton said. "We share everyone's responsibilities. We're master planners, engineering services, the operations and maintenance. We're all handling things to accomplish support for the customer."
Larson credits that sharing of responsibility as a reward in itself. "Every project is a learning experience," said Larson. "As the project manager for the Echo Pier project, I am learning so much about marine construction."
Garrison residents can look forward to the changing face of Kwajalein. "In 10 years, Kwajalein will look like a new place, as we upgrade major environmental systems, quarters and buildings," said Heidle. "Current and near-term projects are expected to meet or exceed construction levels from the '50s."