Dodge, nearing departure, reflects on two years as Area I commander

By Franklin Fisher

CAMP RED CLOUD South Korea -- As Col. Hank Dodge nears the end of his tour as Area I commander, one of the main impressions he'll take with him is how fast the Army transformed Area I from an austere, hardship tour with no families to a "family friendly" one with wives, kids, and the pools, playgrounds, school and other facilities to match.

"It's been fast and furious," he said in a recent interview with the Morning Calm.

Dodge ends his two-year tour as commander of U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I later this month and moves to a new assignment at Fort Bragg, N.C. Col. Mike Scott will assume command of Area I during a 10 a.m. ceremony July 13 at the Village Green on Camp Red Cloud.

For decades, Area I was notorious as a hardship duty station where Soldiers lived in aging Quonset huts and toughed out a year's tour unaccompanied by family members. But in recent years the U.S. military decided that Area I would be included in an overall "transformation" drive to have U.S. servicemembers in Korea serve longer tours in Korea and be accompanied by their families.

That set in motion a big-scale push to overhaul living conditions at Area I installations and set up the facilities and services the area would need to provide the necessary "quality-of-life" upgrades for troops and families.

"My predecessor and his team here at the garrison did a wonderful job of laying out the base plan," Dodge said.

That process had been under way for almost a year when Dodge arrived.

"As I look back and think of all those things, I'm amazed at just how much change has happened in such a short amount of time," Dodge said.

The first Department of Defense School in Area I -- Casey Elementary School -- opened at Camp Casey in 2010, and now has about 450 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through eight.

A brand new Child Development Center was built and opened in the spring of 2011. Army Community Service received accreditation with commendation by the Department of the Army Accreditation Team in 2011.

"The whole directorate was relocated into a newly renovated facility on Camp Casey," Dodge said of ACS, "and then they were accredited for the first time ever here in Area I."

But those were only a few among many other facilities established under the transformation.

Child care facilities and playgrounds have also gone in, as has an Olympic-size swimming pool and kids' splish-and-splash park at Camp Casey.

Major renovations have been made to fitness centers and indoor swimming pools at Camps Red Cloud, Stanley and Casey/Hovey.

"Of course, you can't drive more than two blocks on our installations without seeing a new playground with the slide and the child-friendly surface matting and whatnot," Dodge said.

The garrison's efforts were crowned when the Army gave USAG-Red Cloud and Area I it's first-ever Army Communities of Excellence Award this year at a ceremony hosted at the Pentagon by Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, commander, U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

"And I think a lot that was due to the fact that we brought so much on-line so quickly," said Dodge.

The push to set up facilities and services has been paralleled by a rapid growth in families, he said.

The total number of command-sponsored slots "mushroomed," said Dodge, from about 62 several years ago to a current level above 860.

"So now, more than 1,500 family members live up here in Area I that used to not live here, and that's on top of a number of non-command sponsored family members that also reside here," he said.

However, that same growth in families -- and the doubling of demand for services to support them -- produces a "continuous challenge" as the federal government has moved into an era of budget cuts, staffing drawdowns, and other limits on resources.

"So, logically, with all of the increases to family services and with the creation of a more family-centric and family-friendly environment here, our requirements have doubled on the garrison," he said. "The constant friction is that our budget hasn't doubled to keep pace. So, therein lies the challenge.

"Even though I think we've made tremendous strides and progress in the two years that I've been a part of it, it's going to become increasingly difficult to maintain current levels of support based on reduced resources that I think are probably coming our way," he said.

"By and large, I think we do a great job with what we've got, and I'm continually proud at how we continue to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park," said Dodge. "It's really pretty amazing."