FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 13, 2020) -- The Army’s second-highest-ranking civilian spent a good part of his day here Oct. 7 touring training facilities, conversing with troops and spotlighting efforts to improve privatized military family housing.
Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson received a glimpse of quartermaster and ordnance training, lunched with students at the Samuel Sharpe Dining Facility and addressed members of the media outside a newly renovated residence in the Jackson Circle neighborhood.
Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, hosted the undersecretary and accompanied him throughout the tour.
McPherson’s first stop was the QM School’s Petroleum and Water Department. There, he met with administrators, instructors and students. He also received a familiarization on the latest virtual training systems said to save time and resources while improving technical skills.
Advanced individual training Soldiers Spc. Zoya Goodwin, Pvt. Xavier Sullivan-Dixon and Pvt. Paden Bear were among those who briefed the undersecretary, walking him through a virtual training session.
“We have a new breed coming into the force, and they gravitate toward technology,” pointed out PWD Director Jose Hernandez, who was present for the briefing and spoke highly of the professionalism and confidence demonstrated by his junior Soldiers. “This is what they like, and when you mesh what they like with the learning experience, the confidence level just goes up.”
McPherson spent roughly an hour at PWD and later presented Soldiers and leaders with coins. Hernandez said he was thrilled senior leaders are taking an interest in virtual learning programs at the school and is always glad to demonstrate how students are benefiting from it.
“I thought it was a great visit,” Hernandez said. “It was good to have someone from the Pentagon visit us and see how we’re revolutionizing the way we train Soldiers. I was extremely pleased to see our senior leaders involved, but more importantly, see our young professionals demonstrate what we’re capable of and what we’re doing.”
At the Samuel Sharpe DFAC, McPherson – a former Soldier himself – was accompanied by Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Escobedo, CASCOM CSM. The two dined with AIT Soldiers, and McPherson casually conversed with them on such topics as leadership, training and quality of life.
The Jackson Circle neighborhood was next on the undersecretary’s itinerary. Fogg, Deputy to the Garrison Commander Patrick Mackenzie and Housing Chief Albert Williams showed off the interior of a renovated residence as a symbol of future plans to improve housing in the installation’s oldest neighborhood.
Afterward, McPherson addressed members of the press, government workers and contract employees on what the Army has done and is doing to rectify the issues with privatized housing that were well-vocalized last year.
“Essentially we gave (privatized housing companies) a ground lease of 50 years and handed over the houses for them to renovate, improve and replace as they saw fit,” McPherson said. “Unfortunately, at that time, the Army took a step back from housing. ‘It no longer belongs to us. It belongs to a private contractor.’ That was the wrong answer. It is our responsibility to provide for the health, safety and welfare of our Soldiers and their families and we shifted gears and are now doing just that. In the past two years, we’ve made tremendous strides.”
Those “tremendous strides” include accelerated efforts to renovate units and replace housing where needed.
“We have about 85,000 homes in the Army inventory,” McPherson noted, “and in the next five to eight years, we will either renovate or replace 90 percent of them. The oldest ones we’ll (deconstruct) … and build new ones.”
An example of current initiatives is the Jackson Circle neighborhood, located adjacent to the main installation, north of Route 36. As the undersecretary spoke on the front lawn of a residence, construction trucks roared by, and he made mention that it was the sound of progress.
Several neighborhood homes are currently being renovated and plans are underway to begin work on more.
Roughly half of the 1,500 homes at Fort Lee will be renovated or replaced within the coming years. The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $15.6 million.
In addition to the upgrades, the undersecretary said new work order processes have been put into place that will improve upon the resolution of maintenance needs and allow residents to rate their satisfaction with the work. Furthermore, those processes are now being monitored by command teams as a quality assurance measure.
McPherson rounded out his visit with a trip to the Ordnance Campus. At Cohen Hall, he toured the allied trades training areas as instructors demonstrated welding and machining practices as well as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
At the Munitions and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Department’s Rose Hall, the undersecretary was familiarized with EOD robots and toured a field training site. McPherson’s last stop was the always-popular virtual welder at the Track/Metal/Working/Service Recovery Training Department.
Under Secretary McPherson spent three years in the Army as an enlisted military policeman. He later attended law school, joined the Navy and eventually became the Judge Advocate General. He retired from the service in 2006.
McPherson became the 34th Under Secretary of the Army in March 2020.