FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston visited Fort Rucker March 9-11 to visit with Soldiers, families, and leadership at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, the garrison and tenant units.
Grinston first received a USAACE overview brief from Command Sgt. Maj. James D. Wilson, Aviation Branch command sergeant major, and then an office call with Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general.
During the visit, Grinston also hosted a town hall on quality of life in the post theater, met with senior NCOs, worked out with warrant officer candidates, spoke at an NCO induction ceremony, and visited USAACE flight simulators, the Fort Rucker Transition Assistance Program, the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory and the NCO Academy.
He hosted the March 9 town hall, as he explained on his Twitter account, to “listen to families and Soldier about ways the Army can continue to put them first and improve our quality of life initiatives.”
After his introduction from Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond P. Quitugua Jr., Fort Rucker garrison command sergeant major, the SMA started the town hall off by discussing Army People First quality of life initiatives on improving housing and barracks; health care; child development centers, and child and youth services; spouse employment; and health care.
Grinston said the Army has come a long way with family housing and the momentum of improvement continues, but that “doesn’t mean we’re finished. We have a long way to go,” adding that he is also focusing in on improving barracks across the Army.
“We didn’t have the attention we really needed on barracks,” he said. “Our barracks are really bad and we have a long way to go. We can’t blame anyone else for that, as an Army. All we can do is look at ourselves.”
He said officials estimate it will take about 10 years and $9 billion to get Army barracks up to standard.
On health care, the SMA said the move to the Defense Health Agency has been complicated by the COVID pandemic overwhelming the country’s medical system, and the Army moving its medical resources into the country’s fight against the virus.
“We’re still working on that and what that is going to look like, and we’re still dealing with COVID,” he said.
As far as child care goes, he said the last time he checked the Army has three military construction projects in progress. “For the Army, that’s not a lot. But it’s better than zero.”
He said where more ground has been made up is freeing up more childcare spots at existing facilities by giving Soldiers and family members priority at all CDCs. “Believe it or not, when you dig into this, there were a lot of people taking up some of those spaces. Changing that priority opened up a lot of spaces.”
Further work is being done to expand the family childcare home program and creating flexible hours at posts where there is a big enough need for child care outside normal hours, he said.
Improvement has been realized, as well, with spouse employment. He said spouses can now be reimbursed up to $1,000 when they have to get relicensed because of moving with their Soldier. The previous amount was $500.
On the PCS side, Grinston said that Soldiers can now get 100% reimbursement for do-it-yourself moves, and the Army is looking at ways to get Soldiers more weight on their allowances for moves, and also making improvements to its sponsorship and in- and out-processing programs.
“How we receive people really matters,” he said. “I think we just haven’t done well at it. I think we do well at training bases on how we receive people. You see a drill sergeant, you’re ready and motivated, and you have Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. But at your first duty station – good luck! When people come to an installation, that’s going to be the first person they see – they should be the absolute best we have seeing you at each installation.”
After his brief, Grinston opened the town hall up to questions from the more than 100 Soldiers and family members on hand – all socially distanced and masked. Most questions were personal about PCS issues, the less-than-ideal state of local barracks, education costs and access to specialty medical care.
The SMA addressed each Soldier’s concerns as best he could, but Wilson and Quitugua followed up to ensure their concerns were addressed properly.
Closing out the town hall, Grinston thanked all of the Soldiers and families of Fort Rucker for all they’ve done for their country.
“I really appreciate all that you’ve done in the last year,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what you all have done. You all being the Army. I’ll just run you through a few things. Last year, COVID hit and the active-component Army was the first ones to send medical treatment folks to New York and Washington State. The Guard followed up with 14 teams across the nation to help treat patients across the nation.
“A few weeks later, we had all of these things with violence going on across the nation. The Guard and Reserve went out to help make sure that we didn’t destroy the nation,” he said. “By the way, right after that, we were hit by hurricanes and forest fires.
“You don’t get the credit for all that you do,” he added. "It might not be you specifically, but your Army and Army leadership are really working hard, and all of you have been right there with us."