Village Mayors Program part of ‘Best Hometown in Army’

By Scott Gibson - Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs OfficerApril 30, 2024

Nez Perce Co-Mayor Rachel Reed, Fort Leavenworth’s 2024 Spouse Volunteer of the Year, right, listens to briefings at the Village Mayors Program meeting April 17, 2024, at the Frontier Conference Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Nez Perce Co-Mayor Rachel Reed, Fort Leavenworth’s 2024 Spouse Volunteer of the Year, right, listens to briefings at the Village Mayors Program meeting April 17, 2024, at the Frontier Conference Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL
Mayors meeting staff briefs
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lindsey Slattery, personal financial counselor and herself a former village mayor, briefs members of the Village Mayors Program on Army Community Service’s financial counseling offerings during the monthly mayors meeting April 17, 2024, at the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Frontier Conference Center. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Leavenworth mayors meeting
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Kickapoo Village Mayor Kendall Reese, Pawnee Village Co-Mayor Shanna Cheatham and other village mayors listen to Garrison Commander Col. Duane Mosier during briefings by various post entities at the monthly Village Mayors Program meeting April 17, 2024, at the Frontier Conference Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL

A drive through any of the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., housing areas will reveal signs with the name of the village, and the name of the village mayor or co-mayors who represent that village.

Currently, about one-third of all Army Installations have a Village Mayor Program… Fort Leavenworth was one of the first.

The program was established here in the 1990s to give a voice to service members and their families and to foster a better sense of community within each of the 16 villages on Fort Leavenworth.

According to Fort Leavenworth Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Erika Rhine-Russell, the village mayors are notable trailblazers as they undertake a significant responsibility within the Village Mayor Program.

“The village mayors amplify the voices of the residents and promote positive change from within,” Rhine-Russell said. “They are the critical connection between each community, the housing partner and the Garrison. Their dedicated efforts deliver a sense of ownership that inevitably fosters a strong unity across neighborhoods throughout the on-post community.”

While the mayors provide an avenue to help address maintenance and repair issues, their role goes way beyond that, according to Glenn Hewitt, Director of Family Morale Welfare and Recreation and staff program lead for the Village Mayor Program. FMWR is the logical lead for this program because they own the installation volunteer program, and Fort Leavenworth’s mayors are volunteers.

“The mayors provide a sense of hometown community pride,” Hewitt said. “You can’t begin to put a value on how important their role is in making Fort Leavenworth the ‘Best Hometown in the Army.’”

Kendall Reese, mayor of Fort Leavenworth’s Kickapoo Village, highlighted the importance of the mayor’s role in building that sense of community.

“The residents, for the most part, are only here for 10 months, but those 10 months are at a critical junction in most families’ military careers, which we want to be a positive experience, so creating a sense of community in a short time is extremely important,” Reese said.

Village Mayors
Oregon Village Co-Mayors Katy Longfellow and Diana Eshelman pose by their village sign in April 2024 on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer (Photo Credit: Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer) VIEW ORIGINAL

Katy Longfellow, who co-mayors Oregon Village with Diana Eshelman, explained one of the benefits of participating in the program as a village mayor.

“It’s kind of a peek behind the curtain a little bit in terms of seeing how many different entities have to work together and the complexities of that,” Longfellow said. “It’s not just Garrison, it’s not just Army, and it’s also not just housing. Sometimes it is a little overwhelming, like ‘who does what and how and who do you need to talk to,’ but seeing how it works, I think, gives me a better appreciation for what actually goes into (making the post run.)”

Eshelman expanded on the importance of the program for its role in providing a conduit to pass on critical information from post directorates directly to her neighbors.

“I think it is important that we make it a point to pass on every bit of information that’s made available to us so that way it isn’t just us who are knowledgeable, but our neighbors are also knowledgeable about what’s going on.”

Mayors involved in the program said they share a wish for a village mayor program at all installations.

“I think the primary benefit of the mayors program at the neighborhood and installation levels is similar to the benefit of the soldiers’ Family Readiness Group at the unit level – it ensures that information passes from the garrison and post agencies to residents in ways that are relevant and tailored to their level of experience,” Reese said. “At installations without a program, there is a gap in the flow of information. Having a mayors program reduces the negative impact of incorrect ‘tribal knowledge,’ the things everyone ‘knows,’ but which don’t necessarily reflect reality, with the mayors serving as an accessible resource and trusted intermediary between the residents and post agencies when there are questions or concerns that don’t have easy answers in the resident handbook or a post regulation.”

Mayors Program Holiday Donations
Mrs. Claus, aka Kickapoo Village Mayor Kendall Reese — joined by Santa Claus and Fort Leavenworth Garrison Commander Col. Duane Mosier — presents a bag of toys from Santa that represent the larger donation made by participants in the Village Mayors’ Fun Run and Toy Drive to Monica Bassett from Stronghold Food Pantry, second from left, Dec. 9, 2023, at the Post Theater at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The donations were split between Stronghold Food Pantry and the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers Angel Tree to support local families in need. Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer (Photo Credit: Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer) VIEW ORIGINAL

Some of the events the mayors have sponsored to provide camaraderie in their villages have included movie nights, pool parties and bowling outings to spend time together and get to know the neighbors. In addition, there have been several community gatherings for Halloween, Christmas and other holidays.

“We asked residents to donate leftover candy after Halloween to fill a neighborhood Santa’s bag, which he handed out to kids just before holiday block leave,” Reese said. “We received so much candy that we had leftovers to give to the (U.S. Disciplinary Barracks Battalion) at Christmas for their shift workers and to the Resiliency Center for their candy bowls. We also had a Santa mailbox for all the children to write to and receive a reply from Santa in their native language.”

Having neighbors who live on post who are from multiple other countries and cultures is another perk of the program.

“I think that is one of the reasons that this is my favorite place in the Army to live,” Longfellow said. “Having those international families amongst us is such an opportunity… to me it is such a gift. It is something that is really rare in the Army, and unless you are overseas, you don’t get that exposure to share cultures and to share just hearing another language.”

Village Walk
Kickapoo Village Mayor Kendall Reese leads Fort Leavenworth Garrison Commander Col. Duane Mosier and Fort Leavenworth Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Erika Rhine-Russell, right, and others on a Village Walk tour last year in Kickapoo Village on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The Garrison Commander’s Village Walk program allows mayors to introduce the command team and key staff to members of their community and address concerns in the neighborhoods where they live. Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer (Photo Credit: Photo by Scott Gibson/Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Officer) VIEW ORIGINAL

One way Garrison Commander Col. Duane Mosier and his team use the Village Mayor Program is to build a better sense of community by meeting the housing residents where they live. Through the Fort Leavenworth Garrison Commander’s Village Walk program, mayors can introduce the command team and key staff to members of their community and address concerns in the neighborhoods where they live. This hands-on approach has been another key touchpoint where concerns can be addressed in real time with each neighborhood.

“There was an issue I was having with our sidewalks, and I was feeling kind of defeated because (repairs) weren’t happening,” Eshelman said. “But during our walk-through, Colonel Mosier said ‘Diana, you had an issue with the sidewalk,’ and he looked at housing and said, ‘You owe her an explanation,’ or something like that, and I thought that was wonderful, and I, in that moment, I knew that he genuinely cared and was going to get this issue taken care of.”

That example helps underscores how the Village Mayors Program makes a difference to the Fort Leavenworth neighborhoods every day.

Summing up the experience of being a mayor, Eshelman pointed to her very first post on the neighborhood Facebook site.

“If you go back and look at our welcome post that is still up there, we never changed it, here is what it said: ‘We love it here and we want you all to love it too.’”