FORT POLK, La. — Hurricane Laura hit Fort Polk in the early hours of Aug. 27 creating a swath of intense destruction in the form of downed trees, loss of power in the midst of intense summer heat and damage — large and small — to homes and facilities.
As Fort Polk continues its ongoing recovery effort, an installation-wide neighborhood walking tour took place Sept. 2.
Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general, said the purpose of the tour was to allow Fort Polk leadership to create a “boots on the ground” effort to see every street and house on the installation.
“The intent is to gain a resident's perspective in each neighborhood and determine the areas of focus over the next several weeks to restore quality of life within our Fort Polk community to pre-storm levels,” he said.
Groups walking the neighborhoods were composed of leadership from Fort Polk command and units. Each group had a mix of Soldiers and civilians representing key elements to Fort Polk’s recovery process such as Corvias, Directorate of Emergency Services and Army Community Service.
Before the walking tour began, Frank told those walking the neighborhoods he was looking for information about debris, major or minor damage to homes, restoration of power and discussions with residents.
Frank’s team focused their tour in the Palmetto Terrace neighborhood. As he walked down the streets filled with homes displaying a wide range of damage, he and his team took notes, talked to residents, righted trash cans and handed out pertinent information about resources and aid available to the Fort Polk community.
Frank stopped to talk to Spc. Swingly Shiro, 32nd Hospital Center. Shiro said he was surprised to see Frank walking through his neighborhood.
“I think it’s great that he came out. It’s nice to know he cares,” he said.
Sgt. Steven Heudopohl, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, spoke with Frank about his difficulties in the aftermath of the hurricane with a spouse who is recovering from surgery, and an 18-month-old and eight-month-old to care for.
“My wife had to have water to take baths and stay clean, as well as air conditioning to keep her cool,” he said.
Heudopohl said he has been through hurricanes before.
“I’ve never had electricity back on this fast before. It normally takes up to two weeks. My wife and I couldn’t be happier with Fort Polk’s response,” he said.
Jessica Ballard, Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program manager, participated in the walking tour with Frank’s group. She handed out flyers with important numbers and resources for Fort Polk Families to take advantage of in the hurricane aftermath.
“It’s important for me to be able to put the most important information available into the hands of the people who need it the most. The ACS mission is to support the military community. This way, we know they have our number if they need to call us, regardless of the situation,” she said.
Ballard said leadership like Fort Polk’s makes a big difference to Soldiers and Families.
“You can tell they care when they are engaged in a one-on-one dialog with residents in the Fort Polk community. As a spouse, I know how important that can be to a successful assignment in the military,” she said.
As Frank moved further into Palmetto Terrace, he talked to Nicole Morrison, a Fort Polk spouse.
Morrison said this was her first hurricane, but she knew things would be OK.
“I won’t deny that I was nervous, but Fort Polk just gives you a sense of safety,” she said.
Morrison said she has admired the way the Fort Polk team has come together to tackle everything in the aftermath of the hurricane from clearing trees and debris to getting the power back on.
“I’m just so proud of our Fort Polk Soldiers and leadership. You just don’t see this kind of effort everywhere,” she said.
Toward the end of the tour, Frank and his team spoke with Heather King, a Fort Polk spouse, and her son Liam, 7, walking in Palmetto Terrace.
King said she appreciates that leadership at Fort Polk is willing to get out in the Fort Polk neighborhoods to meet with residents.
“It’s nice that they want to help when we have issues. We’ve been part of the Army Family for seven years now and this hurricane is the first disaster we’ve been through. I’m impressed with the effort it took to get everything back to normal as quickly as possible,” she said.
Col. Ryan K. Roseberry, Fort Polk garrison commander, also took part in the walking tour. He led a team through the Maple Terrace neighborhood.
Roseberry said it’s important that Soldiers and Family members see their leaders are engaged and understand what they are going through.
“That’s why we’re out here today, doing a walking town hall of our military housing areas, interacting with our Soldiers and Families, asking their concerns and offering what information we have as to how repairs are coming along,” he said.
Frank encouraged residents to call Corvias and submit their work orders if they have any damage to their homes.
“Corvias is prioritizing their efforts — but we want to efficiently and effectively repair the damage to your home — so don’t delay, let Corvias begin working on repairs to your residence immediately,” he said.
Frank said work order numbers were listed at 160 on the last report prior to the hurricane. Now there are 1,050 homes with minor damage with the probability of multiple work orders inside each home.
Daniel Bartlett, Corvias Property Management facilities director, was a member of Frank’s walking tour. Bartlett said there’s no doubt the hurricane is posing challenges.
“As more residents return home to assess damages to their houses, I feel that there will be a second wave of work orders,” he said. “It can be overwhelming, but we have numerous contractors that are helping us meet this challenge with everything from mold and water issues to repairing roofing and siding damage.”
Bartlett said the Corvias team cares about Fort Polk’s military Families.
“The need to complete work orders will continue to be our priority and we want the Fort Polk community to know we will do everything we can to finish them in a timely manner,” he said.
If you have questions or need to report damage, call Corvias at (866) 436-2047 or (337) 537-5050.
Betty Beinkemper, Fort Polk Garrison housing manager, also walked the Palmetto Terrace neighborhood with Frank’s group.
Beinkemper said there has been great progress in getting normalcy back to Fort Polk neighborhoods thanks to regular garbage pick up and power restoration to home repairs and restoration of mail delivery.
“This effort has been huge. Everyone has worked hard in a short amount of time to make the progress we have. Fort Polk housing never shut down. We have been working with military Families who had housing issues since the hurricane passed,” she said. “What we are working on now is getting emergency housing for Families that need it. That’s our main priority.”