By Carl Purvis, Belvoir Eagle editorMay 15, 2008
FORT BELVOIR, Va. Aca,!" Despite the threat of rain, hundreds of military Families from the installation showed up May 10 to help Fort Belvoir Residential Communities celebrate the completion of 1,000 of 1,800 homes scheduled for replacement or renovation at the 1,000th Home Celebration.
The event, held in the newly-completed Park Village, included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a barbecue with activities for children including moon bounces, face painters and balloon artists.
Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe Jr., commanding general, U.S. Army Military District of Washington and Joint Force Headquarters - National Capital Region, reminded the audience that the celebration of the 1,000th home occupied a day that made it even more auspicious. "It\'s pretty significant that we're cutting a ribbon on a house between Spouses' Day and Mother's Day," he said. "The ranks of our services are filled with the children of our military Families.
"So, we're, in fact, making a statement about our values and what we want our future Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to reflect when they serve," he said.
The actual 1,000th new home was completed at 5849 Peterson Loop in Colyer Village March 17. Park Village was selected for the celebration since Colyer Village has not been completed.
In addition to Rowe, speakers during the ceremony included Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation commander; Rep. Tom Davis, 11th Congressional District; Rep. James Moran, 8th Congressional District; Paul Bollinger Jr., deputy assistant secretary of the Army for privatization and partnerships; Casey Nolan, development executive of Clark Realty Capital; and Dale Andrews, investment manager of Pinnacle.
Lauritzen noted the first home constructed under RCI was issued to a junior enlisted Soldier, and that it was fitting the home being handed over in honor of the milestone would recognize "not only the unique nature of these homes, but the unique rank that is achievable by a select few folks in our Army."
He also acknowledged the unique relationship of the partnership that allows the installation to provide a better quality of life to Families.
"In the Army, we have a saying about what 'right' looks like," he said. "'Right' looks like the support and devotion of our senior leaders, our members of Congress who have joined us here today, and the partnership with (Clark Pinnacle); and, what 'right' looks like for us as we sit here today, these magnificent homes.
"The return on the investment of these homes is about 11 to 1," Lauritzen said. "But, the smile factor at Belvoir is absolutely priceless."
FBRC is a partnership between the Department of the Army, Clark Realty, and Pinnacle. The development plan for Fort Belvoir spans eight years and includes demolishing and replacing of 1,630 homes and renovating 170 historically significant homes on post.
Since the partnership began development in 2004, the project has been awarded with such honors as MFE Military Project of the Year, Virginia Green Innovation award, and Outstanding Federal Planning award. The trend-setting project was also recognized with the ICSC International Design and Development award for the first-ever town center on a DoD installation.
Davis said RCI was about providing a better quality of life for Army Families and should serve as a model.
"Privatization on military installations, with efforts from Congress, the Army and private industry, is the wave of the future in providing affordable housing," he said.
Moran echoed his sentiments, citing on-post housing occupancy levels he said have gone from 40 percent in the old housing to 90 percent since the construction of new houses.
"It's clearly working," he said. "The effort at Fort Belvoir cannot be measured by bricks and mortar alone - these are thriving new communities.
"The leadership at Fort Belvoir knows that without the Family's support, you're never going to get the Soldier's full support," Moran said.
Calling the RCI program a "win-win" for everyone, Bollinger said the Army has privatized nearly 85,000 homes and delivered 24,000 new or renovated homes to Soldiers and their Families.
Rowe said a major reason housing and barracks improvements are being made across the Army, is because senior NCOs have taken the lead to "check those things and to tell us this is what we need to do."
"This privatized initiative is allowing us to change the Army faster than we ever could have. We appreciate the teamwork," Rowe said.
Nolan also acknowledged the partnership and pointed out other notable achievements that came on the way to reaching the milestone: Clark builders accomplished more than two million square feet of construction, used 32 million nails and enough concrete to pour a sidewalk from Belvoir to New York City, saved more than100 acres of green space and more than 1,000 trees.
"It's an honor to present these new homes to military Families who are sacrificing to protect our freedom," Nolan said.
Andrews held up a painting by one of the young occupants of one the homes. The painting was from FBRC's Living Green at the Villages at Belvoir Contest. On one side of the drawing, the colors were muted and the subjects looked sketchy and sparse; the other side, Andrews described as "lush and green and beautiful."
"We've come so far in such a short amount of time," Andrews said. "We're proud to be a part of this accomplishment, but we take much greater prided in serving the Families that reside in our homes everyday."
Afterward, Lauritzen, Rowe, Bollinger, Davis, Moran, Nolan, and Andrews helped Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gonzales and his Family cut the ribbon on their new home. Gonzales has been assigned to Fort Belvoir for eight years. He and his wife, Sharon, live with their teen-aged children, Melina and Nicholas.
Their oldest daughter, Felicielle Johnson, is a 25-year-old, married, Army sergeant stationed at Fort Lee, Va. Between them, they comprise 41 years of active-duty experience with on-post living Aca,!" both in Family housing and the barracks.
Gonzales is a 25-year veteran; Sharon transitioned out after completing 14 years as a signal Soldier; and, Johnson has been a food inspector in the veterinary field the past two years.
"The quality of these houses, you can't touch them," Gonzales said. "We were living off-post and these are as good or better."
Sharon agreed she was appreciative of the efforts the Army is making for Families. She added she hoped the Army can provide a similar level of quality to housing for its single Soldiers.
"Our young Soldiers deserve a good place, too," she said.
Johnson said the newer homes she's seen "make you want to live on post. It seemed before it was Army first and Family second. Now it seems like it's Family first," she said.
Although Fort Lee is undergoing a similar modernization of its housing, Johnson said construction is not complete on the homes designated for those of her rank. She said she was in the same position in Germany and was reassigned to Fort Lee just before she and her Family could move into the newer housing, and fears it might happen again.
"I still live in the older housing, so this is nice," Johnson said looking back at her parent's new home.
Belvoir resident Spc. Brent Blake and daughter, Roni, 8, came out to see the new homes and take part in the community barbecue.
"It's a home, not just housing," Blake said of the newer houses on post. "I grew up a Navy brat, so I was more used to white walls and white living rooms. If you wanted a home, you had to live off-post."
Blake, a military policeman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Intelligence and Security Command, and his Family have been living in Dogue Creek for the past three months. They turned down one of the newer homes in January because, at the time, they were unable to sell their house at their last duty station.
"Comparatively, we wouldn't be able to have something this nice off post."