FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Several flex employees from the Fort Knox Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation prepared to join the unemployment lines last week after COVID-19 forced local officials to make some very difficult decisions.At the last possible minute, U.S. Army Installation Management Command officials came through with some much needed good news.“Given the nature of what we’re up against and the long-term issues associated with the pandemic, we really needed a way to sustain that workforce,” said Randy Moore, director of Fort Knox’s DFMWR. “[Army officials] agreed to put the flex employees on admin leave.”Moore explained that when COVID-19 hit the United States, Army officials began communicating the need to move essential personnel to telework and nonessential personnel on administrative leave. He and others found themselves facing a harsh reality: a third group may have to apply for unemployment.“This situation is unique in that it’s a pandemic, which we’ve never really ever had to contend with before,” said Moore. “It’s typically something along the lines of a shutdown, a furlough, a disaster or weather; a number of those things we respond to in those situations that are usually very time-limited, and they’re usually things we can overcome without too much burden or hardship.“When this one came out, we knew that it was going to be long-lasting.”Pending guidance from higher command, Moore said he was left with little to no options regarding roughly 180 on-call employees who earn hourly wages and work intermittently.Moore’s team is separated into three categories: fulltime Non-Appropriated Fund employees; part-time NAF employees; and flex employees. Because fulltime and part-time NAF employees are contracted with the Army to do a job, Moore said they continue to be paid in times of crisis, whether for telework or on administrative leave.The flex employees, who include childcare workers at the Child Development Center and make up at least 1/3 of the total FMWR workforce, have no such guarantees. “In the beginning, there was no way to compensate them during this time, so my initial guidance was to take them off the schedule,” said Moore. “That was hard; it was a tough call to send them home. So one of the things we did to try and support them was to coordinate with our NAF [human resources] office to generate memorandums for each employee that they could use with the employment offices to file for unemployment compensation.”Although Moore was doing his best to take care of his employees, he recognized it wasn’t an ideal solution. He said his concern was that many flex employees, especially in the childcare fields, would find other jobs and when the virus threat lifted and everybody returned to work, there would be no flex employees to fill critical positions needed to support the military force.The problem with that, according to Moore, is that those same employees hold positions that can take a long time to fill. In the case of childcare workers, it takes roughly two months to get flex employees hired after background checks are complete, on-boarded and trained.“That’s a tough timeline when you’re dealing with Soldiers and their Families, and their childcare needs,” said Moore.About a week after letters of employment went out to flex employees, the Army stepped in.“What the Army said is, ‘Look, what we’re going to do is go back and ask supervisors to take an average of the hours worked for the last 90 days and we’ll use that as a baseline for staff,’” said Moore.Moore said he is relieved that his workforce was taken care of.“This really pays dividends in a number of ways: first and foremost, hopefully it communicates to those employees the value that the Army has in their service. Number 2, we’re really grateful that it will minimize their financial hardship.”Moore said possibly the biggest benefit is knowing their customers will be taken care of; something that matters most to him.“By doing this, the Army has a ready workforce when the pandemic is lifted and the all-clear is given and we come back to work,” said Moore. “When we come back to work the need for childcare is going to be substantial. If we do not have that workforce ready and available, we would be at mission failure.“Now, we’re going to be able to take care of everybody across the board.”