FORT LEE, Va. – “This is awesome,” read one Facebook comment. “Thank you for putting Soldiers first!” was the acknowledgement that immediately followed.
It was part of the feedback from privatized family housing residents at Fort Lee as they witnessed the installation’s first Walking Town Hall, conducted on June 21 in the Monroe Manor and Adams Chase neighborhoods – the largest and most diverse communities on post.
Col. Karin L. Watson and Command Sgt. Maj. Tamisha A. Love, the garrison commander and CSM, led the Walking Town Hall entourage that also included representatives of Hunt Military Communities – the company that manages privatized housing here – and staff members from Kenner Army Health Clinic; the Provost Marshal, Religious Support, Garrison Safety and Housing Services offices; and Family and MWR.
Fort Lee adopted the idea from other installations that found them to be a resounding success, according to Al Williams, chief of the Installation Housing Office here.
“It’s something different than traditional town halls that aren’t always well-attended,” he said. “By going out into the community neighborhoods, our senior leaders and agency representatives can interact with residents where they live and see for themselves what’s needed to make housing areas and life at Fort Lee better. I hope we get the opportunity to visit every neighborhood by the end of the year.”
Engagement with residents started within seconds of the event getting underway. A group of moms out with their children on a 96-degree afternoon expressed satisfaction with living in family housing, telling Watson that maintenance needs are quickly addressed and they’ve experienced nothing less than professional support from Hunt and the IHO. There also were clear indications they appreciated their home life at Fort Lee.
“We’ve made so many friends here,” observed Jamey Malcom, spouse of an Army captain assigned to CASCOM. “On the first day of moving in, there was a gentlemen at our door asking if he could help unpack stuff. A lady right away said ‘hey, you’ve got kids; we should get together and meet each other.’ … This is our first time living on post, and it is nothing like the horror stories we heard in the past. It’s beautiful, we’ve got lots of space and this is such a great community. We really like it.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Johnathan Eubanks, an instructor with the 345th Training Squadron, shared with the command team how efficiently he was able to move in when he recently transitioned to Fort Lee from his last duty station.
“We pulled in with our U-Haul and the keys were literally waiting for us,” he said. “It couldn’t have been any smoother.”
Offering his opinion about family housing here, he summed it up as “low stress and enjoyable.” Eubanks praised the Walking Town Hall, calling it a “positive initiative to go out and engage with people in the community.”
“It really shows how the leadership and all these agencies are here to support us,” he said.
After informing the command team that his military housing experience has been satisfactory in every way, Staff Sgt. Michael McGouey from CASCOM compared his neighborhood to growing up in the 1980’s.
“Back then, there was that feeling of safety where you lived,” he reminisced. “I get that same feeling here. We can ride our bikes up and down the street without worry. On Halloween, we were out here trick-or-treating with everyone, and nobody does that anymore back in my hometown because they’re afraid to. That’s what I meant when I told the colonel I never want to leave.”
Standing on the front steps of his Adams Chase home with spouse Molly and infant daughter Charlotte, Capt. John Cottrell, a Captains Career Course student at the Army Logistics University, also informed the command team that they’re happy with their housing arrangements, and maintenance needs were being met.
“This is a great idea,” he said of the Walking Town Hall. “I really appreciate the command and housing coming out to do this.”
Just a short distance around the block, Capt. Stephen Roth, a Basic Officer Leader Course instructor at ALU, and his spouse Christine pointed out a few minor concerns – a tree requiring removal in their front yard, a bush that needed to be trimmed and who they should speak to about kids misbehaving on the playground across the street. However, they were far from disappointed with their surroundings as they chose to focus on the positives of impromptu neighborhood get-togethers and the courtesy they’ve experienced from the Hunt Communities staff.
“It’s way better here than (two previous duty stations),” the captain said. “It’s just a good community, and it’s a huge benefit for military personnel assigned to Fort Lee because you’re not going to find housing of this quality anywhere nearby given the (Basic Allowance for Housing) set for this area.”
His take on the Walking Town Hall concept was equally favorable. He pointed out the convenience to residents who are not able to attend formal town halls at a specified location because of their work schedule or family situation.
“I think it’s an effective way to interface with the community. I really appreciate this.”
Offering final thoughts after the event concluded, the garrison commander said she thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet face-to-face with residents and get their feedback on the effectiveness of services provided at Fort Lee.
“The support of this event by the garrison team and our housing partners is, yet again, an indicator of the positive and symbiotic relationship we have built together,” Watson said. “I think the majority of residents appreciated this different variety of a town hall, and we hope to continue doing this during the summer months, capturing all of our residential neighborhoods. It was our first one, so there are obvious lessons learned, and we plan on incorporating them in the next iterations of the Walking Town Hall.”
Privatized housing residents are encouraged to visit the Family Housing page, home.army.mil/lee/index.php/my-fort-lee/all-services/housing-services, for news updates and helpful info. A monumental event happened within the last two weeks when the final portion of the Tenant Bill of Rights was Ok’d for implementation. A Plain Language Briefing prepared by IHO is now available on the housing page.