By Jeremy Buddemeier U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public AffairsMarch 14, 2011
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Tonya Phillips was at her wit's end.
Snowstorms and the resulting flight delays had forced her family to spend several days strung out in various airports and on myriad modes of transportation between Fort Irwin, Calif., and Vilseck, Germany.
After finally arriving at the Kristall Inn on Rose Barracks, Phillips and her family began the often-dreaded task known by Army families everywhere: in-processing.
Still exhausted from traveling but with their chins up, Phillips, her husband Staff Sgt. Phillip Caldwell of the 172nd Infantry Brigade and their children hopped on the garrison shuttle bound for Grafenwoehr.
When they arrived, most of the offices were closed for lunch. Shortly thereafter, heavy snow caused dangerous road conditions and the shuttle stopped running. They were stranded, again. As a new Army spouse, Phillips' first PCS move was becoming one really long day.
"Everything that could have gone wrong for them, did," said Tonik Joseph, assistant director of outreach services at Parent Central Services, whose open door was a beacon for the Phillips family.
Recognizing the family's situation, Joseph immediately began calling every rental car agency in the area while administrative assistant Wendy Santiago-Flores processed their paperwork. Then Phillips found herself in another predicament.
"I was in tears because I didn't have a coat for my infant," Phillips said.
The Bavarian winter had little sympathy. Luckily, Joseph's team at Parent Central Services did.
In what Phillips described in her ICE comment card as, "watching WWF wrestling," Joseph, Santiago-Flores and their co-workers raced around the office, tag-teaming to help her family.
Joseph drove Phillips to the Exchange and commissary to get a coat for 2-month-old Mia and groceries for the weekend. She called back a few days later to follow-up and even took the family to Amberg while she was running her own errands.
"I can't even put into words how grateful I was," Phillips said. "You're scared, you don't have family here ... not many people would have done that. It was just wonderful."
Paying it forward
Joseph, who has more than 15 years as a customer service professional, said it was very easy for her to assist given her first experiences at Grafenwoehr.
Though most people's memories of coming to a new place fade over time, Joseph remembers her first moments in Germany quite vividly.
"It was April 30, 2006, and it was snowing," she began. Joseph and her husband Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey P. Joseph, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, were part of the unit's torch party. Although they had housing, they had little else.
Their sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Rainey, dropped Joseph off with his wife, while he and Jeffrey tackled Soldier- specific in-processing.
"She didn't miss a beat," Joseph said. Mrs. Rainey gave her towels, sheets, blankets and took the family grocery shopping, in addition to helping them feel welcome in their new home.
When Joseph got home, she realized one of the blankets Mrs. Rainey had given her was a handmade quilt. A few weeks later when the family was settled, Joseph attempted to return the quilt and linens.
"Mrs. Rainey promptly said: 'Keep it, someone else will need it,'" Joseph said. "I'll always remember her for that. She made me have such a love for Germany."
The customer service the Phillips family received at Parent Central Services was no anomaly. In fact, every employee in the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation receives several stages of training as part of the "Operation Excellence" customer service training program, according to Anita Payne-Landgraf, acting director of FMWR. Not surprisingly, Joseph is one of the course's instructors.
After producing a hefty stack ICE comments filled with gratitude and kudos for her staff, Payne-Landgraf said her Child, Youth and School Services employees routinely receive praise. Verlena Williams, a Rose Barracks Parent Central employee, was recognized recently by the garrison commander with the Quarterly Customer Service Award for achieving 100 percent satisfaction rating from customers.
And much of the service the staff provides extends outside the offices in which they work.
"We see parents out in the community and they remember us, and ask additional questions," said Santiago-Flores, whose husband Sgt. Daniel Flores is a mechanic with the 574th Quartermaster Company. "Usually I say, 'Just shoot me an e-mail and we'll take care of it.'"
According to Payne-Landgraf, out of CYSS' nearly 200 employees, 85 percent are military spouses, which means it's easy for them to identify with their customers.
"Part of what we do is remember what it's like to go through that process," Joseph said.
And keeping those memories fresh might just be the key.
The Phillips family has since moved into housing at Netzaberg, but it's unlikely they'll forget those poignant first moments in Germany. Like Mrs. Rainey's handmade quilt, that warm reception will endure.
"I still have that blanket," Joseph said with a smile. "That's one of the first things I'll pack when we leave."