FORT POLK, La. — Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general of United States Army Forces Command, visited Fort Polk March 9-10 to see people and facilities integral to the quality of life for Soldiers, civilians and Families.
In 2019, the Army designated Fort Polk, Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Wainwright, Alaska as “The Big 3,” or garrisons identified to receive prioritization for improving quality of life on the post for Soldiers, Families, and civilians who live, work, train and recreate there. This year, the Army added Fort Hood, Texas, to this group, now called “The Big 4.”
People are the Army’s number one priority. The team of professionals assigned to the Joint Readiness Training Center and U.S. Army Garrison Fort Polk, focus on ensuring the quality of life programs and facilities are the best in the Army.
Supporting their efforts is an Army-wide task force committed to improving housing, spouse employment, education, child care, recreational opportunities, medical access and care and permanent change of station moves across the Army. However, emphasis is placed on the Big 4.
Garrett had the opportunity to visit Parkway Elementary School, just outside Fort Polk’s gates, where many students are the children of Soldiers, and a good portion of the staff are military spouses. Garrett met Samantha Westerfield, Vernon Parish Elementary Teacher of the Year, whose husband is a Soldier assigned to Fort Polk. “My daughter is a teacher in the Fort Bragg community, and I’ve learned a lot lately about the profession. Teaching is hard! It is a calling,” said Garrett. “I think this pandemic has forced parents to think about schools differently; about how important these facilities and the teachers who serve in them are to their children. I can’t thank you enough for what you do.” Garrett presented a commander’s coin of excellence to Westerfield for her achievement.
Tiffany Koch, Fort Polk’s School Liaison Officer or SLO, was on hand to describe her role as an Army civilian employee serving military parents and students. “SLOs keep the Army integrated with our communities and serve to resolve issues quickly, so children receive the best education possible,” she said.
Brig. Gen. David Doyle, commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, led the Parkway tour. Doyle praised Dione Bradford, the Louisiana State Principal of the Year. “We work hard at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk to help our Soldiers build resiliency and be ready for anything,” said Doyle. “I want to thank you and your team for doing those same things for our children, right here at Parkway Elementary.”
Garrett and Col. Ryan Roseberry, Fort Polk garrison commander, visited one of Fort Polk’s Child Development Centers. The Army’s nationally recognized child development programs offer Families quality, consistent and convenient services that enable Soldiers to focus on their mission and spouses to pursue professional ambitions. Here, Garrett and the staff discussed the changes required to operate in a COVID environment.
Like others across the Army, CDCs remained open during the pandemic to look after the children of mission-critical Soldiers and civilians who could not telework. The CDC currently has 135 children on-site, the maximum allowable under the current health protection condition.
The CDC usually cares for 195 children at full capacity.
Roseberry called the CDC work force “heroes. From the beginning of the pandemic, through tornadoes, two hurricanes and an unprecedented snow storm earlier this year, our CDC work force have been there — caring for children despite the challenges they faced. Their efforts have been essential to keeping this installation running smoothly through myriad obstacles,” he said.
No quality of life visit is complete without a look at where Soldiers and Families live. Fort Polk has 3,661 houses on the installation and works closely with its privatized partner, Corvias Group LLC, to maintain and repair them. And, Fort Polk is no stranger to storm damage. Garrett visited some of the housing areas hardest hit by hurricanes Delta and Laura, including a house with a roof so damaged, it became uninhabitable. The residents were moved to a new home as were all those whose abodes took significant damage.
Unexpectedly, Garrett stopped the driving tour when saw a few parents enjoying a neighborhood playground. One of those parents, Chanel Sohl, spoke to Garrett about living on post. Sohl is the spouse of a JRTC observer/controller. “I love all the parks around here,” Sohl told Garrett. “The command is trying to focus on family and the balance between work and down time. My husband is gone a lot during rotations. What that focus means is that when he has down time, he is mentally off, and he’s never had a job where he has that ability until this assignment.”
Garrett finished the tour by observing the new greensand filtration system construction for South Fort Polk. The system will significantly improve the quality of water.