FORT SILL, Okla., Jan. 21, 2021 -- The Welcome Center in Building 4700 here has long been a hub for retirees, arriving and departing service members, and their families to go get personnel matters attended to.But, COVID-19 created a challenging environment in the building for visitors and for those who work there.To remedy this situation, Jim Miller, Directorate of Human Resources director, chose Robert White, supervisor of the In/Out Processing Section, and gave him some guidelines of what needed to be done. Having retired from the 428th Field Artillery Brigade as a command sergeant major in 2012, White used his experience leading people to create an environment that better protects the health of customers and employees who work there.He said discussions arose at a garrison staff meeting about the amount of pedestrian traffic in and out of Bldg. 4700, and that there wasn’t a plan in place to control access.“There were several cases where we were helping people who were positive for COVID-19, but (those customers) didn’t tell anyone until after they left,” he said.So, White assembled his team to address the various concerns and make the Welcome Center a safe place to work and visit.“The best thing about our planning sessions was all the branch chiefs and supervisors had input, and that made me feel very good,” said White. “It’s been the whole Military Personnel Division section that came together to make this happen.”White said he created a team to come up with ways to reduce the threat of the virus for the people who work there while still providing service to their customers.“We wanted to help people feel comfortable coming to work,” he said.Call aheadThe process begins with a requirement for the majority of customers to call and schedule appointments. This automatically reduces customer traffic, as White said about 95 percent of the offices in the Welcome Center are staffed by people who are teleworking.Next, access to the building is limited to the east entrance.Once indoors, visitors are first addressed by Soldiers at the front desk.“They will politely ask where you’re headed to or if you have an appointment,” said White, who added the Soldiers ensure customers are wearing masks. “If they don’t have a mask, we give them one. If they don’t accept it, we ask them to leave.”For some of those who don’t have appointments and are looking to get questions answered, phones are available with a complete list of phone numbers to connect with teleworkers.White said they still take walk-in visitors, but only for emergency purposes such as a lost or stolen ID card, or retirees who lose an ID card and cannot get prescriptions. He added the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System is another program they continue to serve on a walk-in basis.White credited Teresa Bland, the ID card section supervisor, for helping manage walk-in customers and organizing the MPD response.He said this is especially important because the ID card, in/out processing, finance, and transitions offices can’t be done via teleworking.To further protect workers, plastic shields were installed to provide a barrier between customers and the workers they would speak to. He also stocks gloves, disinfectant wipes, and masks for employees. Finally, White said MPD purchased a disinfectant fogger that is used daily.He said he’s received a lot of positive feedback from employees.“The concern is still there but the risk isn’t as high,” he said.White added a lot of the mitigation efforts they put in place came from employee suggestions, with review and approval from Miller.“We have a chain of command that listens to their employees,” he said.The new way of helping customers is already paying off as White said hours lost to sickness have greatly diminished for mission essential staff members. This is especially important because of the daily requirement to in-process all newly arrived Soldiers.“We can’t afford to have a staff member down,” he said.Along with having a voice to contribute to a safe working environment, supervisors remind employees of their personal responsibility to do their best to protect themselves at home and in the community.Vaccination readyTo help the division continue to fulfill its mission, White said three of the four nonteleworking offices have received a priority designation that will enable their staff members to get vaccinated once all first responders receive their inoculations.White added all employees he’s discussed this with agreed to get the vaccine and called that another positive for the MPD meeting its mission.Way aheadWhite said vigilance will remain in place throughout 2021 until they see a reduction in infections.A review will occur at year’s end.“If they decide to stop this process, it will be done gradually,” said White. “If another flare-up of infections occurs, it will be easy to initiate full protective actions again.”Though there may well be months to go before any changes occur, White said he’s gained a measure of satisfaction for what they have accomplished. He said he was honored that Miller chose him to lead the effort, and he credited the camaraderie between employees for helping initiate changes.“We work eight hours a day, five days a week. We try to treat each other like family,” he said.