By Gerald Henderson, Fort Jackson Deputy Chief of StaffJanuary 31, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Last week, our commanding general wrote about the many positive changes occurring across the installation. Sometimes I think it is very easy, particularly for those of us who have been here for a while, to take a very cynical approach to what we see. We base our attitudes on a time when there was little growth, when our construction highlight was relocatable trailers on Tank Hill and when driving through our housing area could leave you downright depressed.
In my first assignment here, I was the director of Victory University, and one of the events we did with our students was to take them to a unit and allow them to observe a Basic Combat Training battalion "pick up/receive" a new class of Soldiers. I left early to find the unit location, and I remember walking into the unit area and calling back to one of our cadre to complain that someone had given me the wrong address, because these buildings were obviously abandoned, had been for a while and were most likely condemned.
That was my first and very lasting impression of Fort Jackson. I remember walking away thinking to myself, "Good gosh, we have all those Soldiers, all those leaders, and this is what we accept. And worse yet, we have the families of those Soldiers visit, and this is how they see America's Army."
It just so happened that these barracks were the ones that sat closest to our main gate. The main gate had an old trailer that was falling apart that someone had relocated from a range and placed at that gate for the guards to stay warm. Those buildings have long since been gutted, renovated, and are now proudly housing the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. That gate has now been totally reconstructed, and is a thing of beauty. If you come through that area now, your first and most likely, lasting impression will be a positive one.
My point is that times are indeed changing. We have the opportunity to be part of an installation that we can be proud of. Here are some thoughts on how we embrace this effort and take it to a higher and sustainable level.
As in almost everything we do, true change begins with the individual. The will and discipline to make a difference rests in each of us and begins with a sense of ownership. That ownership can be tied to a piece of ground, a cubicle, a building, a GSA van or a platoon of Soldiers. Neglect, damage or misuse of government property is something that is not leveled against some invisible entity considering we are the government.
That problem comes back to rest at our doorsteps -- we are just too naïve to understand the impact of the sum of our individual actions. For example, you back your GSA van into a telephone pole because you were not really paying attention because you were talking on your cell phone. We lose the use of that van. Several people have to file reports. We share a van with some other unit, which makes things harder. Someone gets assigned to investigate. Someone has to pay the repair bill. Someone's rates most likely go up as a result. That someone is us, whether you spell it, us or U. S. it doesn't matter.
We have to look really hard at ourselves. Are our actions reflective of our spoken desires? Next, studies have shown that the person most capable for changing an individual's behavior is not his leader, teacher or family member; it is the individual's peers.
Think about the strength of that conclusion and how it could be applied if we truly policed ourselves. Think about what could be if none of us walked past a problem and looked away, if we respectfully challenged our peer's actions or behavior, if rather than talk about what we should do, we did it and pulled our peers along with us.
Visual signs of change occur because of attitudinal changes -- changes that cannot be seen or measured, but permeate and inspire us all. It starts with the individual, it boils down to ownership, but if we want to maximize the potential of all individuals we must have a method to harness that energy.
Recently, I read articles on several sports franchises that were introspectively looking at themselves to widen their fan base, create new fans, improve their image and become a model franchise within their respective leagues. In one particular case, the franchise identified 101 potential things about the organization that could be changed to improve the organization. It included things like additional benefits for season-ticket holders, changes to players' uniforms, halftime entertainment, a new LED scorer's table, and improved quality of promotional giveaways.
The organization developed its list by allowing fans to provide initial input and then vote on those items that were most important. Once done, the franchise developed a method that allowed its fans the opportunity to see the status of each action and to offer continuous feedback, ultimately providing the fans the opportunity to provide a direction to the organization. That organization is now doing quite well compared to a few years ago.
It is very easy to draw a parallel between Fort Jackson and that franchise. At Fort Jackson, we are all about creating more fans, more devoted fans and giving those who work and live at Fort Jackson an opportunity to be a part of where the installation focuses its efforts. We gather that feedback through a variety of channels. We host a variety of councils, meetings and committees that are provided for attendees to provide input. We have ICE cards, surveys and other methods for soliciting feedback, but I have never felt comfortable that these methods reach the intended audience, the grass root level.
One of the potentially best solutions to providing this feedback is through our quarterly installation town hall meetings. By design, these allow you the opportunity to come together with your peers, leaders and representatives across the post in an effort to improve ourselves. There are no subjects that are off limits. You can discuss schools, housing, child care, the Exchange, the Commissary, gate hours, traffic, safety, security -- any area that you think needs attention; there are no restrictions.
Here's the problem. For the last several years, attendance at the town hall meetings has steadily declined. Regardless of how many free pizzas are offered -- our speakers still outnumber our participants. We achieve next to nothing, and the energy and effort that goes into pulling it all together leaves you questioning the value.
The command is determined to change this. Our desire is to fill a building with people -- people who want to bring about positive change. We want to take those ideas and put them into action, and during each subsequent town hall, update the status for each and solicit new ideas. These ideas become nested into our strategic plans and help shape our budgets and goals.
We are going to change our approach to these meetings, do a better job of publicizing, put more command emphasis on attendance and attempt to reach out to all people who live, work and play here.
When the opportunity comes, we ask that you make the commitment to come and share your thoughts. Again, it starts with you and this is your opportunity to make a difference.
Each of us has the opportunity to make a difference, positive or negative, through words or silence, through action or inaction. It depends on you and how you see yourself. A good friend of mine shared with me this parable the other day. It asks the question, "Are you a brick layer or a cathedral builder?" Three bricklayers working side by side were asked what they were doing. The first brick layer said, "I'm laying bricks." The second one said, "I'm feeding my family." The third one said, " I'm building a cathedral."
The question is -- are you a bricklayer or a cathedral builder?