Building trust: ComRel supports open communication with partners outside the fence

By Denise CaskeyApril 4, 2024

Building trust
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Relations Chief Susan LeRoy, shoots photos of the changing of the guard Feb. 2 at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery during a special Black History Month wreath laying ceremony. (Photo Credit: Sherry Kuiper, JBM-HH Public Relations) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, VA - Military installations don’t exist in a bubble. That’s why the job of Community Relations Chief Susan LeRoy is so important to the day-to-day operations on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

As the community relations, or ComRel, chief, LeRoy represents JBM-HH in the greater community outside the borders of the installation.

“Making that connection between community members and our base is huge if we’re going to be able to work together,” said LeRoy.

LeRoy came the joint base around the same time as the new joint base commander, Col. Tasha Lowery, and got straight to work setting up meetings to introduce her to surrounding community leaders and elected officials and accompanying Lowery to a variety of community events, such as the 2023 Holiday Boat Parade, as well as attending regular meetings with groups such as Military and Veterans of Arlington County and Northern Virginia Regional Commission to discuss subjects of mutual benefit or concern for the joint base and the community.

Building trust
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Relations Chief Susan LeRoy, then Sgt. Susan Noga, a broadcaster at Livorno, Italy, Armed Forces Network, won second place in 2012 in the Army's annual Keith L. Ware Public Affairs competition in the deployed television news report individual award category for her story titled "Kiowa Warrior Maintainers." (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

LeRoy said her job was made easier by the paths laid by former JBM-HH ComRel Chief, Leah Rubalcaba.

“She was the one that really got all those connections,” LeRoy said. “My job is basically to go out and say, ‘Hey, we haven't seen you in a while.’”

LeRoy, a retired Army sergeant, said she learned the importance of relationship building in 2012 while she was stationed with the Armed Forces Network and worked with civil affairs in Afghanistan and saw how they worked to gain the trust of Afghani civilians.

Building trust
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Relations Chief Susan LeRoy, then Sgt. Susan Noga (kneeling), deployed with Armed Forces Network in Livorno, Italy, shoots video September 13, 2012, of the MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis the runway for take-off for a story on how MQ-9 Reaper drones support U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“I learned how important it is to build relationships and trust with the community and folks around us,” LeRoy said. “Without trust, without building those relationships, we're not going to have the support we need for our people on the joint base.”

How the relationships work

Lynne Porfiri, chief of staff for the Arlington County Manager's office said, a relationship with the communities surrounding JBM-HH can be mutually beneficial.

One benefit is the sharing of emergency services.

“We are part of the Northern Virginia Emergency Services Mutual Response Agreement,” JBM-HH Fire Chief Russell Miller said. “We provide automatic aid support to Arlington County on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, and we provide mutual aid support to Washington, D.C. on an as requested basis.”

Building trust
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Relations Chief Susan LeRoy, then Sgt. Susan Noga, a broadcast journalist assigned to U.S. Army Europe, records Sgt. Maj. of the Georgian Armed Forces Aluda Kopaliani (left) taking part in an interview with local media during the second day of the Conference of European Armies for Noncommissioned Officers May 20, 2014, in Tbilisi, Georgia. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Cole) (Photo Credit: Denise Caskey) VIEW ORIGINAL

The joint base does not have advanced life support capabilities or an ambulance, he said, so they must rely on aid from the surrounding communities when those services are needed.

“Without that kind of trust between our base and the community outside our base, coordinated efforts probably wouldn't be as good,” LeRoy said. “They work well together on a day-to-day basis because of those relationships.”

The partnership between the military installations – particularly JBM-HH, Fort Belvoir and Marine Corps Base Quantico – and the communities of Arlington and Fairfax counties has a huge economic impact, said Peggy Tedaj, director of military and community partnerships for the NVRC.

“Looking at all three bases, the regional economic impact is $54.5 billion,” Tedaj said. “The military is 24% of the economy for the Northern Virginia region.”

The benefits of working with surrounding communities and other military installations in the National Capital Region can be felt in the cost of doing business. For example, the joint base, Fort Belvoir and MCB Quantico have an Intergovernmental Support Agreement in which they partner with NVRC to purchase road maintenance supplies, such as salt, in bulk from the Virginia Department of Transportation, saving them an estimated $29,700 over 10 years.

Having a great relationship with the community impacts the quality of life for joint base service members and families, supporting everything from positive experiences with local businesses to fun and safe ways to spend free time to good schools for children.

There aren’t any schools on the joint base, so most of the children who reside there must attend school in Arlington County where there are nine Purple Star Program schools. Because of the transient nature of military service, these military friendly schools help children who experience frequent moves acclimate to their new surroundings and get the services they need.

“We have quarterly meetings with the superintendent of Arlington County Public Schools,” LeRoy said. “That way we can keep the line of communication open in case there are issues.”

Tedaj and Profiri both enjoy working with LeRoy and said working with her has been beneficial in keeping the lines of communication open. Working together can only improve the communities for all who reside in the area, they said.

“We share the same community, and we share the same values,” Profiri said. “It’s the close personal relationships that we build with our counterparts over at the base that lead to a better community.”

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