For more photos of Col. O'Bryan's time at Fort Knox, Kentucky as the Garrison commander, check out this Flickr album HERE.
FORT KNOX, Ky. — When Col. Lance O’Bryan arrived at Fort Knox on June 30, 2021 as the new Garrison commander, he was greeted by over 1,300 unfamiliar faces, often hidden behind masks due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Two years later, he enjoys their smiles and inside jokes as he prepares to relinquish command of the Garrison in July and then retire from the Army by January 2024. Though already familiar with the challenges of being a garrison commander, he has witnessed a lot of success at Fort Knox — success that started on Day 1.
“The first thing I noticed when I got here vice when I was a garrison commander in Okinawa [Japan] was the level of integration of the Garrison with mission partners,” said O’Bryan. “I can remember getting picked up in the minivan — it was Jason Root [of DPW], Mike Lineberger from LRC and Ken Boeglen from DPTMS — they drove me around to all the different areas that involve [Cadet Summer Training.]
“Listening to those three talking back and forth, I could feel and sense a level of integration that I didn’t have in Okinawa.”
Fort Knox is home to nine general officer tenant units that belong to several different senior commands with different mission requirements. As a result, Fort Knox can pose several unique challenges for a garrison commander.
Fort Knox’s established mission integration gave O’Bryan time to assess, prioritize and focus on the big issues that would define his command, something he didn’t experience in Okinawa for nearly a year.
“I knew this was an environment I was going into that was already helpful,” said O’Bryan. “So, the big challenge I’ve had the entire time here is that there’s always going to be a challenge in day-to-day operations.”
Day-to-day operations often include weather-related events, tackling facility repairs, construction and maintenance, training site upgrades, program hiccups and budgetary issues.
Facility challenges during O’Bryan’s time included the demolition of the historic Ireland Army Community Hospital, which served the Fort Knox community for more than six decades, and preparation for the demolition of two other historic sites: the old district water tanks, which have been featured in movies; and Crittenberger Elementary School, the first racially integrated school in Kentucky and the Department of Defense.
“We’ve got great facilities, but they could always be better,” said O’Bryan. “Our biggest thing is our HVAC systems are old. To use the deputy’s term, ‘It’s bailing wire and duct tape sometimes.’ We’re not always funded to replace systems; we’re funded to replace components.”
The Digital Air-Ground Integration Range is on its way to becoming a huge success for Fort Knox, which is already known for being one of the Army’s busiest training locations. Though weather setbacks have hampered completion of the DAGIR, it is expected to be operational next year.
“Last year we had over 100,000 transient troops that came through here to utilize the range complex and utilize Fort Knox,” said O’Bryan. “We’re going to see a lot more troop traffic when it comes online.”
He said one of Fort Knox’s biggest successes that he immediately enjoyed as the garrison commander is Fort Knox’s ever-impressive energy resilience record.
“We can produce our own energy, we can produce our own potable water, and we can treat our own waste water,” said O’Bryan. “I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who don’t already know the capabilities that Fort Knox has. That isn’t anything that I started; it’s something that I’m a benefactor of, but it’s something I saw that I can continue to want to move forward to the next step.”
He praised Fort Knox’s utility partnerships as another success, especially with Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation and Hardin County Water Districts 1 and 2. The partnership with Nolin in particular has garnered several Department of Army-level awards, including one in May 2021.
“We wouldn’t be in the position that we are without those two organizations,” said O’Bryan.
O’Bryan said he has focused heavy attention on continuing to ensure Fort Knox remains integrated into the local community.
“We have a very supportive community, and that’s one of the reasons that Fort Knox was my number one choice of installations to come to,” said O’Bryan. “The overwhelming community support was something that I wanted to continue to focus on.
“I was always a firm believer that the strength of Fort Knox is related to the strength of our neighbors.”
There are many successes to be had, according to O’Bryan, who said they have at times seemed almost unbelievable: everything from reaccreditation of Child and Youth Services and the fire department reattaining the Center for Public Safety Excellence accreditation – one of only a handful in DOD to achieve it – to the continual flow of energy awards.
“We’ve had several Secretary of the Army energy awards, whether it’s through partnerships or the all-LED airfield. There’s been so many awards this team has received that I actually had to have someone start putting it on [PowerPoint] slides. We’re up to like four slides with an 8-point font because it’s just full of all those successes.”
O’Bryan said one of the unsung heroes of Fort Knox has been 19th Engineer Battalion, whose Soldiers have often stepped up to provide cost-saving construction solutions. During O’Bryan’s time, the engineers developed Castle Lake and expanded the Caruso Youth Sports Complex field.
As he prepares to retire, he offered one last bit of advice to the incoming commander.
“At the end of the day there are always going to be challenges, there’s always going to be friction, and there’s always going to be somebody who’s not happy about things,” said O’Bryan. “But I know this team, and they’re always putting their best foot forward to make things happen and keep Fort Knox running.”