FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson Soldiers, employees and family members had the chance Tuesday to make their voices heard during the first installation town hall meetings of 2013.

Some of the topics discussed during Tuesday's two meetings were general reminders about the kinds of services available on post. A representative for the Directorate of Human Resources touched on how to acquire identification cards for dependents, while a consultant with Military OneSource discussed services available to Soldiers and family members. Chaplain (Maj.) Charles Kuhlman discussed the benefits offered by the Chaplain Family Life Center.

The broad nature of Tuesday morning's meeting was stressed at the start by Fort Jackson Garrison Commander Col. Michael Graese.

"If you're here for a furlough town hall brief, you're in the wrong place at the wrong time," Graese said. "If you're here for a U.S. garrison employee town hall meeting, you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. What we've got today is our semi-annual quality of life town hall briefing."

The topics, he said, were generated via ICE comments or other sources of feedback on post. Because of the extensive consequences of the budget cuts brought about by the sequestration, the post's finances became an unavoidable subject.

Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, Fort Jackson commanding general, reminded people that projects that have already been funded are safe from the ax.

"Anything else that we have on our books that has been funded will continue to be worked on and completed," Roberts said. "What I hope you're seeing on Fort Jackson is a visible sign of change. There's a deliberate campaign we have here on Fort Jackson that's aimed at improving things that are at eye level. What I ask is that you bear with the construction that's going on, the major projects, and then contribute to the smaller projects on post in your own area. Try to make things look better where you can."

Roberts said there are plans to construct a new commissary on post by 2015. The project needs 20 acres that have not yet been allocated, though.

Lee Road Child Development Center

Staffing shortages are delaying the opening of the new Lee Road Child Development Center on post.

"This facility has the capability of doing overnight care," said Rose Edmond, chief of Fort Jackson's Child, Youth & School Services. "It only has 20 spaces ... and we're doing some overnight care right now through the Imboden CDC. Our average attendance for overnight care is 10 children, so this is going to take the place of the overnight care at the Imboden CDC when we open it."

It's still unclear when the Lee Road facility will open, she said.

"We don't have a set time to open the CDC and, given the pending furloughs, we're not sure when our staffing numbers will be up enough to open it. But, we're really happy with this. Kids won't be sleeping on air mattresses anymore. They will actually have beds. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to meet the needs of those parents in need of overnight care per mission requirements, as well as any emergency situations that might come up."

"Our team is doing everything we can to keep those CDCs open," Graese said. "Our CDC team and CYSS team have done a magnificent job. We've cut some services that were not very popular in an effort to keep those CDCs open."

Balfour Beatty Communities

Balfour Beatty Communities is entering the final phase of a lengthy construction project that added dozens of new homes on Fort Jackson.

"We finished (building) the last new homes in January 2010," said James Harper, project director for Balfour Beatty. "Currently, we're in the last year of a five-year plan, and this last year is totally dedicated to renovation. Initially, we were going to renovate 119 homes, but due to financial difficulties in the new construction area, we had to take away some of those homes to pay for our new home construction."

Plans also call to renovate playgrounds on post deemed "unsafe."

"We had a large-scale inspection done about a year ago, and all of our 35 playgrounds were inspected," he said. "A lot of those needed some form of work. We had to take away seven of those playgrounds because they did not meet safety standards."

Those locations, he said, could not be easily renovated because of liability issues.

"A manufacturer would not touch another manufacturer's work," he said. "It's all about liability. Those playgrounds could not be retrofitted to make them safe. We have seven playgrounds remaining with work to be done. Hopefully, we'll have them corrected before the summer."

There are plans to replace the playgrounds that were closed, he said, and it's likely these playgrounds will be in new locations.

"We have a plan to replace the playgrounds that were taken out," he said. "Not only to replace them, but to strategically place them into our footprint. Fort Jackson had 41 playgrounds when we came on board, and a lot of them were massed in one area, while other areas didn't have one at all."

The goal is to find the most practical and accessible locations for the new playgrounds, he said.

Gate Hours

Fort Jackson is also struggling to keep its gates open and staffed as a result of employment reductions last year.

"We had 59 contract security guards until the first of October," Graese said. "Our numbers were reduced to 37 Department of the Army security guards, so there was a very real reduction in the numbers that we had."

It took a while to get those positions filled, he said, and recent changes in gate hours are part of the process of streamlining traffic to meet these reduced numbers. After having its hours abbreviated, Gate 1 was reopened to outbound traffic in the evenings because safety spikes placed in the lane prevented vehicles from improperly entering the post by using the wrong lane, said Lt. Col. Raymond Simons, director of emergency services for Fort Jackson.

Problems with those spikes, he said, resulted in damage being done to vehicle tires leaving post in that lane. Without those spikes, it is going to be expensive to keep the gate open in the evenings for out-bound traffic.

"We looked at alternatives," Graese said. "We couldn't guarantee that debris wouldn't get into them from time to time and cause (new spikes) to malfunction.

"When we removed the spikes, I had to put personnel on the gate," Simons said.

Unfortunately, taking police officers away from the regular duties to man the gate leaves the post vulnerable in other areas, he said.

"It may not seem like a lot, but every guy that we pull off the road for (driving under the influence,) in my opinion that's a life saved," Simons said.

The hours for Gate 1 were shortened this week as part of a traffic study to find alternatives to pulling police for gate duty, he said.