Fort Hunter Liggett (FHL) hosted an in-person and virtual community relations meeting with Congressmen Jimmy Panetta and Salud Carbajal, the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, Army Reserve Ambassadors, and military leaders in the Monterey County, August 19, 2020.
Military leaders from Moffett Field, FHL, Presidio of Monterey and Camp Roberts participated, representing the Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Navy, and the Coast Guard. Key issues military leaders discussed included how they are addressing COVID-19, aging infrastructure and facilities, housing, and need for more funding and equipment.
The congressmen highlighted the importance of educating the civilian population on how each organization is supporting the community at the local and national level. They were pleased to have the face-to-face discussions with military leaders to enhance collaboration and stay informed. “The more you engage with us, the better we can advocate for the military when we’re in D.C.,” said Panetta. He briefly talked about how the National Defense Appropriation Act will help with some of the issues brought up during the meeting. “I liked this round-table forum so much, I’m going to try and adopt it in my district,” said Carbajal.
Civilian leaders representing the Army in northern and central California – Joseph Sweeney, the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army; and Army Reserve Ambassadors Phil Stage and Dan Furtado – provided the congressmen with their roles in supporting the Army and the major issues that affect troops and their families: housing, PCS moves, daycare, spouse employment, and childcare. “People are the bedrock of the Army, and with the help of Congress, we can provide better support,” said Sweeney. Many of these issues were echoed by the military leaders presented during the meeting.
The 63rd Readiness Division Commander Major General Alberto Rosende opened up the meeting to thank the elected officials, civilian and military leaders for their participation. He stressed the importance of a strategic rapport between all parties for the common good. Rosende provided insight on the broad Army Reserve role to support the nation, and how they are supporting the COVID-19 (C19) fight with Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force at cities requiring assistance. As the senior commander for the U.S. Army Garrison FHL/Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, he outlined how the garrison with two installations, provides critical and strategic platforms for joint forces readiness.
FHL Commander Col. Charles Bell highlighted major garrison initiatives such as modernization efforts, increased and new training capabilities, and positive community relations. He detailed the garrison’s successful three-prong approach to mitigate risks for COVID-19 (C19) for the permanent and transient parties at FHL. Bell also highlighted training capabilities, and the sustainability projects that provide the Army with tremendous cost savings. A challenge he mentioned is the ability to obtain sustained COVID-19 testing for troops visiting during large-scale exercises.
The Presidio of Monterey (POM) garrison commander and tenants, on the other hand, reports a great testing capability (one hour turn-around) through CAL Med. Some of their challenges include the rising sea level, affordable housing, and constant power outages. They also highlighted that the majority of their workforce are teleworking to reduce the risks of contracting or spreading C19.
Some issues presented by the California Army National Guard and 40th Infantry Division representatives are the need for free health care to Soldiers, aging infrastructure, more military construction, equipment and funding. “The dollar doesn’t go very far here in California when everything costs more,” said Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager, California Army National Guard and 40th Infantry Division commander. She proposed that an alternate to building more troop housing is to increase the Basic Housing Allowance. She also reported how Soldier morale is high and they were very proud to provide support to local communities during civil disturbances in Sacramento and Los Angeles earlier this year.
FHL provided Congressman Carbajal with an installation tour, and opportunities to ride in a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and engage Soldiers following the meeting. Congressman Panetta, unfortunately, was called away to address the raging fires in his district.
The tour included a ride through the new JLTV Course, engagement with the 79th Infantry Brigade training at one of FHL’s firing ranges; the TASS Training Center to learn about their mission and engage with instructors and students; the Sierra Energy gasifier plant to learn how it is part of FHL’s energy resiliency plan; and ended at the garrison Emergency Operations Center. An aerial tour was planned but cancelled due to the immense smoke caused by regional fires.
Congressman Carbajal, a Marine Corps veteran, enjoyed discussing the JLTV’s capabilities and better protection for troops, and reminisced about eating Meals-Ready-to-Eat.