WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 4, 2007) - Secretary of the Army Pete Geren visited Fort Belvoir yesterday to tour homes and talked with Army Families about the privatized housing initiative.

Sec. Geren asked George Washington Village residents how they felt about their new homes as he toured bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens.

"In order to have a healthy Army, we've got to have healthy Soldiers and we have to have a healthy Army Family, as well," said Sec. Geren. "If you ask a Soldier, ask anyone, about what goes into their thinking about what makes a good quality of life ... it would be housing, the home they live in, the neighborhood they live in. It's no different if you're a Soldier, a spouse or if you're a private citizen."

In December 2003, the Residential Communities Initiative's initial development period began at Fort Belvoir as existing homes on post were turned over to a private housing-development company.

That company, Clark Pinnacle Family Communities LLC, which is a partnership between Clark Realty and Pinnacle, will eventually demolish and replace 1,630 homes and renovate 170 homes. When construction is complete, Clark Pinnacle will manage 2,070 Fort Belvoir homes.

So far, 36 military installations have transferred to privatized housing, with 78,000 homes under private management. RCI projects have built 11,000 new homes and renovated 10,000 homes with a goal of eventually managing nearly 90,000 homes, said Sec. Geren.

The Army has spent more than $1 billion on the initiative.

"Through this RCI initiative, we've been helping to leverage government assets, $1 billion worth of government assets, and invest $10 billion in quality of life for our Soldiers and our Families," he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Mark and Coretta Wiggins attended the event and discussed their home in Lewis Village, where they've lived for more than a year.

They have a detached three-bedroom home with a two-car garage.

"This is more of a community, not Army housing," said Coretta, who also grew up as an Army child. "You can see the difference."

"As long as my Family is happy, it makes it easier for me to go to work," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark, a chaplain's assistant for the Military Intelligence Readiness Command Army Reserve.

Sgt. Tony and Robyn Persina came to Belvoir on a compassionate reassignment for one of their two children. They have lived in Herryford Village for two years in an Americans with Disabilities Act home. The single-level home has three bedrooms, with oversized doors and hallways.

"Your house isn't just a house, it's a home," said Sgt. Persina. "It's a lot more comfortable; our Families visit all the time."

Five percent of the new homes built at Belvoir are ADA approved.

The secretary went on to discuss upcoming initiatives and the recently approved $100 million in funding for more than 50 existing Morale Welfare and Recreation programs and services affected by the Army's current deployment cycles.

"RCI, and more importantly the privatized housing initiative, where you're standing now, and the houses around you are what right looks like and a very important aspect of our military to continue to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and Families," said Installation Commander Col. Brian Lauritzen. "But, it is one of many initiatives."

Fort Belvoir MWR will receive $135,000 of the recently approved funding for two new full-time positions at Army Community Service.

Over the next five years, more funds will be designated for Family and Soldier support programs and services. RCI will soon complete it's 1,000th home on Fort Belvoir.

(Melina Rodriguez writes for the Fort Belvoir "Eagle.")