While the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence pushes on with its mission of developing Army Aviators of the present and future, the garrison at Fort Rucker is taking steps to ensure the post remains a home Soldiers and families can be proud of for years to come.A new elementary school opening this fall highlights a growing list of current and planned construction projects, and there's something for just about everyone in the works at Fort Rucker, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, garrison commander."These are exciting times at Fort Rucker -- we're truly shaping the future of the Home of Army Aviation and improving the quality of life for our Soldiers, families and civilian employees," Gardner said. "As a garrison, we're constantly planning and looking into how we can better support Army Aviation, while making Fort Rucker a great place to live, train, work and play."The man charged with keeping tabs on all things having to do with the plan forward as far as new construction and new facilities is Joseph Wyka, director of the Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Works."The Army has always recognized the need for Aviation, and with all of the real-world challenges they're seeing, they see the need for more Aviators," he said. "I think that will drive a lot of construction here. I think we'll see the biggest investment in barracks."While infrastructure improvements to existing barracks are currently under way, Fort Rucker and USAACE are also competing for funding for new barracks, a new dining facility and new schoolhouse facilities for Aviation Soldiers for fiscal year 2023."It's not a done deal, but we're competing heavily for military construction funds -- it would be about a $50 million project," Wyka said. "Installations submit military construction priority lists, that the commanding general approves, up to the Pentagon every year, and then the decision makers up there rack and stack across the whole Army."The Pentagon prioritizes the projects, but they're telling us barracks are No. 1 -- barracks and housing, and taking care of people," he added. "Right now, we're fixing up what we have and trying to get new stuff down the line. We're competing against the rest of the Army for that pot of money. We need it -- our barracks were built in 1960s, 70s, 80s and they're dated compared to some other installations."He said officials hope to hear news of where the Fort Rucker project sits this summer.Although the new barracks and schoolhouse facilities are up in air, the sights and sounds of ongoing construction projects are spread throughout the post.NEW SCHOOL
Scheduled to open this fall for the new school year, the Edmund W. Rucker Elementary School on post will combine the current temporary elementary school and aging primary school into one modern facility that honors Fort Rucker's Aviation past and educates students from the moment they walk into the facility, said Miranda Griffin, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District South Alabama Office representative heading the project, who, along with Gardner, led a group of local spouses on a tour of the facility during a break in construction Jan. 22.While construction has experienced hiccups here and there, Griffin said, things are moving along smoothly now towards the fall opening, setting up Fort Rucker youth for a great start to the 2020-21 school year."Everywhere the children go, the intention is for them to be learning something -- for it to be interactive for them," she added. "Whether they're at the history wall with the aircraft, the windmill, the kiln, even the playgrounds, the children will be learning from the time they put their feet on the campus until the time they leave."That attention to detail on the more than 175,000-square foot facility wasn't lost on the parents touring the facility, including Ashleigh Rankin, whose spouse is a warrant officer at Fort Rucker attending flight school and whose daughter will attend the school in the fall."It's amazing to see how beautiful it is and how well-thought out it is -- it's crazy because you can tell by just looking at the school and the details they included that they were thinking about our children at Fort Rucker when they built it," Rankin said. "From the Above the Best sign to the helicopter artwork to the light fixtures looking like rotor blades and birds to the playground with the plane -- they're all going to love it."HOUSING RENOVATIONS
While the military and its partners in privatized housing struggle with the challenge of providing quality housing to servicemembers and their families at many of the nation's installations worldwide, there's largely a good news story to tell at Fort Rucker.And that story is only going to get better thanks to the efforts of Fort Rucker leadership and local housing partner Corvias Military Living, Gardner said."Our housing team at Fort Rucker is extremely proactive and efficient. They always aim to do what is best for our residents -- our Soldiers and their families," Gardner said. "They attack problems quickly when they crop up and take corrective actions, but the real difference maker is that they solve future problems. They take steps now that will help Soldiers and families of the future without impacting current residents. It is truly a relationship built on earned trust."
That push for improvement includes ongoing major renovations to 108 classic homes in the Munson Heights neighborhood on post, and current renovations to 550 homes in Allen Heights, including duct modifications, weather proofing, increasing energy efficiency and replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, said Melissa Bryson, Corvias operations director at Fort Rucker.EAST BEACH LODGE
Officials broke ground on the East Beach Lake Lodge and Banquet Facility in the fall of 2018 on the shore of Lake Tholocco, and, while the project experienced some delays, the lodge is expected to be finished late this year, according to Donna Clancy, Fort Rucker Directorate of Family, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation contract officer representative in charge of the project.Besides the numerous amenities associated with the 20-room lodging and 156-guest banquet areas, the 16,880-square foot facility will also feature a boardwalk to a 650-square foot landing deck, a wedding gazebo with a wedding area and paver path to the lake and a 4,850-square foot deck overlooking the lake.POST EXCHANGE REIMAGING
Fort Rucker opened a new commissary in 2015, and now the Army and Air Force Exchange Service is looking to up its shopping game with what Brenda Hyland, Fort Rucker-Maxwell-Gunter Exchange Service general manager, describes as a "reimaging."The existing facility will receive upgrades to its facade, and improvements in the main store, outdoor living area and food court, including the addition of a Starbucks and a Qdoba Mexican Eats, she said.
The PX was built over the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and that resulted in an eclectic blend of visuals within the facility, Hyland said, and the reimaging will improve customers' shopping experiences by opening up more sales room, improving flow and expanding the food court -- along with new flooring and lighting, as well.She said she expects work to begin this spring and to be complete towards the end of the year. She said they are hopeful there will be no closures during the renovations.TRAINING SUPPORT FACILITY
USAACE and Fort Rucker broke ground on a facility designed to take Army Aviation Soldiers back in time to chart the course of the future. The $32-milllion, state-of-the-art U.S. Army Aviation Training Support Facility, located behind the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, is expected to be completed in approximately two years, according to William G. Kidd, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker deputy to the commanding general."Today is a great step forward in our continuing efforts to try to provide the best for the best in the Army," Kidd said at the November ceremony. "We couldn't make it without the help and support of everyone that is here with us here today, and also the others before them. Like every great effort in the Army, it's a team effort, and we have a great partnership here with the Center for Military History, the Army Corps of Engineers and our U.S. Army garrison here at Fort Rucker as we go forward to provide world-class facilities for world-class Army Aviators."When completed, the facility will house technologies from Army Aviation's past, including aircraft, other Aviation equipment, weapons and uniforms. Soldiers will be able to access the exhibits for study and research, and also take advantage of a state-of-the-art classroom and reference library, Kidd added.OTHERS
Officials continue to work on the infrastructure on post, with projects such as sewage improvements, road repair, tree removal and planting, and the like, while also keeping in mind quality of life projects, as well.Officials are looking into expanding running and biking trails along Lake Tholocco, the post's prime recreation area, and expanding the recreational vehicle camping area.Already known as a great spot for wounded warriors to visit to experience the great outdoors with its handicap-accessible boat and hunting equipment, Fort Rucker continued its ascent when it opened its Wounded Warrior Retreat by the Lake in the fall of 2018.The American Disabilities Act-accessible cabin on Lake Tholocco's East Beach is a one-of-a-kind facility that was the result of a partnership of private and corporate sponsors, spearheaded by the Wiregrass Wounded Veterans Committee. The cabin features an enlarged carport, wheelchair ramp, lowered light switches and appliances, wheelchair-accessible shower and other features all designed to make common tasks more convenient for the nation's visiting wounded warriors."We're committed to doing everything we can to take Fort Rucker to the next level as the Home of Army Aviation," Gardner said. "Our goal is to make Fort Rucker the home of choice for all Army Aviators and a place Soldiers are proud to call home. I think we're well on our way to doing just that."