By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone December 20, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- It's not every month that police, fire and security personnel get recognized for their commitment to a job that requires working in challenging situations, hazardous conditions and threatening environments.
But in December, as most Americans give thanks for a holiday season filled with joy, family, gifts, music, food and plenty of festivities, they may also want to take a moment to show their appreciation to emergency personnel during the month that has also been designated by the Army as a time to recognize Emergency Services.
"It's important to recognize and applaud the skill sets and the commitment and the passion of those in the emergency services field who are always there to protect the community," Michael Sheehy, director of the Garrison's Directorate of Emergency Services, said.
Besides demanding schedules and difficult circumstances that often go along with the job, many of Redstone Arsenal's emergency personnel have stories of sacrifice and dedication to share this year. The April 27 tornadoes in the area tested the commitment of the Arsenal's emergency personnel as they had to give up time with their families to provide services to the Arsenal community.
"Four of our DES personnel lost their houses in the tornado. One of our 911 dispatchers couldn't account for her child in Tuscaloosa for a week. All of our employees stayed at work while everyone else went home and took care of their families," Sheehy said.
"When someone calls 911, they need to know there is somebody capable and committed who is going to respond and take care of the situation. And time and time again, our emergency personnel have shown their ability to do just that."
There are 280 employees who make up the Directorate of Emergency Services. They are divided among three divisions: law enforcement, physical security, and fire and emergency services.
"The DES team represents tremendous experience and talent. It represents boundless potential and it represents the capacity to realize our vision to provide a safe, secure, productive and enjoyable community," Sheehy said.
And he should know. This retired lieutenant colonel spent his Army career as a military police officer. He came to Redstone in 2009 to take a civilian position with the Missile Defense Agency as the chief of foreign disclosure and technology transfer. Prior to that position, his last military assignment was in Germany, where he worked on emerging missile defense requirements for theater.
"I worked generally at the two, three and four-star level during the last 10 years in my Army career and at MDA," Sheehy said. "But I came here to the Garrison because I wanted to get back into the type of work I am really passionate about. I am very passionate about the particular contribution these employees in Emergency Services bring to the community.
"What I have fallen in love with and what is at the heart of my passion are the people willing to put themselves at risk to protect others."
Yet, most of Sheehy's work is administrative, keeping him behind a desk and in meetings to work issues and policies that continue the high quality operations of Emergency Services employees.
"A great day in this job is when I get the rare opportunity to get out of the office and spend time with the work force," he said.
The organization's motto -- Do the Right Thing, the Right Way, for the Right Reasons -- reflects the seven Army values, and "defines who we are and how we go about the service we provide the community," the director said.
The motto also supports the organization's vision to provide a safe, secure, productive and enjoyable community.
"The vision is not hollow. I don't like statements just for statement's sake," Sheehy said. "I do believe in the importance of ensuring we operate from a common frame of reference, and this vision is the broad framework. As I discussed with the DES work force, certainly this vision is no small aspiration. But it is attainable. It is viable. It requires a concerted team effort."
Since taking over as the director of Emergency Services in early 2011, Sheehy has led an Emergency Services work force that strives to be a benchmark "not just for the Army, but also for the region."
To that end, the organization employs a capable, determined and empowered work force that proactively facilitates Emergency Services mission requirements consistent with national strategy and policy; incorporates innovative processes, products and services that enhance operational effectiveness and conserve resources; fosters a values-based work force culture; cultivates internal and external partnerships; enforces leadership and work force accountability; and advances the breadth and depth of force protection expertise across the government and contract work force.
Sheehy hopes to re-establish working relationships with emergency services organizations throughout the region.
"We have existing mutual aid agreements for some services, and we have some joint training. But it's fairly limited in scope," he said. "We are looking to rekindle our partnerships outside the fence."
Early in 2012, Sheehy plans to coordinate a law enforcement orientation program on Redstone for all on-site organizations as well as police forces in Huntsville, Madison and throughout the region.
"There are a lot of new faces in law enforcement in this area," he said. "We want to review with them what DES does, how we're structured, how we operate. That's the first step toward building our partnerships. We want to show them what we have to offer and what we can do to support them. We hope that will lead to other cooperative efforts, such as some regional competitions and charity work that we do together."
Sheehy believes his work force can learn from other emergency services organizations in the area as much as those organizations can learn from Redstone initiatives.
"Area law enforcement leadership is absolutely phenomenal," he said. "And there is a strong will to partner and share resources, and to build on collective capabilities to serve the boarder community. We have some of the best emergency services provided anywhere in the country."
There are some challenges, however, that Emergency Services must contend with, especially as it relates to budgets and resourcing employees for their mission requirements.
"The administrative personnel management requirements of this job are an hourly challenge. It's very demanding," Sheehy said. "But our work force deserves every single ounce of energy we put into it because our community deserves every single ounce of support we can give them."
The Garrison leadership has provided Emergency Services with what Sheehy considers an "appropriate level of support that we require to meet the needs of the community.
"Redstone Arsenal is evolving and Emergency Services operations have to evolve with it, and we have to evolve within the confines of the new fiscal environment. It's not a challenge we face alone."
The directorate is looking at changes that will lead to a reduction of cost without a reduction in service, security or efficiency. One such change -- no longer requiring vehicle decals for Arsenal access -- has already occurred. Another change -- an automated entry system for Arsenal access -- is being considered.
At the end of 2011, another change -- the merging of the Army and NASA 911 centers into a consolidated center managed by NASA at building 4312 -- will be implemented as a cost savings measure that will also enhance operational readiness and response time for emergency calls.
Sheehy relies on the leadership of police chief Art Riley, fire chief Ragnar Opiniano and physical security chief Kevin Dykema to provide employees with the management support needed to be successful in demanding jobs that require a certain finesse with the public.
"Our work force are leaders within the community," he said. "When people see a badge or a uniformed police officer they know it is a trusted person they can go to for help and guidance.
"Our force is the standard bearer for this community. They are at the spear tip of this community. They have to live to a higher standard as it relates to their profession. They have to set the standard and model the standard we expect the community to support. We have to embody and exemplify a standard that invites confidence and credibility."