FORT LEE, Va. – Residents of the Madison Park privatized Army housing area voiced many suggestions and few concerns during Fort Lee’s second Walking Town Hall event Tuesday afternoon.
Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, led the procession that included representatives of the Army Housing Office, Fort Lee Family Housing, Kenner Army Health Clinic, PMO, Family and MWR, the Garrison Safety Office and others. Col. Karin L. Watson and Command Sgt. Maj. Tamisha A. Love from the garrison command team accompanied Simerly, as did CSM Jorge C. Escobedo, his senior enlisted advisor.
Cooler temperatures had most residents hunkered down in their homes, so the command teams began ringing doorbells to speak with occupants on their front porches. There were occasional mentions of buckled or loose carpets, walls that were difficult to clean because of the type of paint used and pet owners not picking up animal waste.
“No major problems come to mind,” was a common response. Military spouse Amy Friefen acknowledged the “noticeable improvement” in family housing maintenance services that appear to be more focused on “actual long-term repair instead of quick-fix patch jobs.”
A resident of Kabul Court suggested more needs to be done to lift the morale of military families. Speaking to Simerly, she proposed training and career fairs specifically focused on remote work, noting that it would be an uplifting opportunity for those struggling to pay bills and spouses unable to get jobs outside the home because they are caring for children.
She also expressed interest in housing-sponsored events that would reinvigorate neighborhood interaction after two years of pandemic-related isolation. Community Director Charleen Herriott informed her that Fort Lee Family Housing is bringing back its “Life at Lee” event (set for May 21). Held annually prior to the arrival of COVID, the resident-focused carnival features youth and family activities, information booths, static displays, a barbecue lunch, prize giveaways and more.
Another military spouse expressed satisfaction with her home and neighborhood while speaking with Simerly and Escobedo in the Khe Sahn cul-de-sac area where FLFH and FMWR had set up information/refreshment stations with cookies and canned drinks. She made an observation about the volatility of the nation’s civilian housing market that has over-inflated prices and made available properties hard to find.
“I can’t imagine searching for an off-post home right now,” she observed. “I think families like us need military housing more than ever.”
A military spouse who resides along Tora Bora Road was waiting for Walking Town Hall leaders as they reached the wrap-up point where they would depart for the evening. She informed FLFH representatives about a refrigerator that still does not function properly despite recent repairs and a maintenance problem related to recent HVAC work. The issues were annotated with a promise to look at them the following day.
The spouse’s subsequent conversation caught the attention of garrison leaders and the community manager. Making note of her son’s nonspeaking autism and multiple families she is acquainted with who have capability challenged children; she asked why Fort Lee doesn’t offer more for such residents.
“We have all these services in the local community but next-to-nothing on Fort Lee,” she pointed out. “There are only two playgrounds on post with one swing each for special needs kids and neither one of them is completely fenced in. … We can’t take part in community events because they don’t include activities our children can do.”
Thanking her for bringing the matter to their attention, Herriott said she would look into the possibility of installing a special needs-equipped playground at the centrally located Family Housing Welcome Center on Sisisky Avenue. Watson informed her that planning is underway for the July 4 celebration and that seemed like a good place to start including features for special needs kids.
Thus, the event closed in the same way it started …with the mission of listening to the voice of the community and enacting measures aimed at improving Fort Lee’s quality of life. Simerly had set that goal in his comments up front.
“This is all about engagement,” he said. “It’s all in the spirit of making the community better.”
The next Walking Town Hall will be held in the Jackson Circle community with a tentative timeframe of late May or early June, weather permitting.