Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Fort Leavenworth’s summer transition season has ended and Garrison Commander Col. Harry Hung said that overall things went well with more than 1,200 families arriving for permanent-change-of-station moves.
One of Fort Leavenworth’s challenges has been the arrival of School of Advanced Military Studies and Command and General Staff Officer Course students in a relatively small window each summer. COVID-19 made the effort even more challenging this year, Hung said.
“Because we’re in a COVID-19 environment, one of the things we learned is if we spread people out instead of having them all show up in the same week, everybody’s safer, there is less stress, and we have better accommodation and resources to meet (each family’s needs),” Hung said. “We’ve treated our permanent party the same as we’ve treated our student population. We’ve reached out to them to get them a home, so there is no wait list for either parts.”
Since February, Hung was tracking each incoming family and working with several entities on post, including Unified School District 207, Fort Leavenworth Frontier Heritage Communities and the Logistics Readiness Center Transportation Office as part of a pilot initiative begun by Gen. Gus Perna, Army Materiel Command commanding general, to improve permanent change-of-station moves by giving inbound and outbound students their request for orders 120-180 days out.
Fort Leavenworth, along with Carlisle Barracks, Pa., and Fort Bliss, Texas, were selected for the pilot program.
Hung said this initiative meant shifting from the former PCS model that put all the responsibility on the service member to a more well-rounded approach with the help of the Garrison.
“(The service member) would first get their orders through their branch …and then they would go to their transportation, …they would go in and (work out) their housing, and then they would work on their medical. Then, if they needed child care, they would go down there and, guess what, every single one of (those entities), they have to fill in a new application,” Hung said. “So, we said, ‘OK, but if you’re going into housing, transportation is linked to whether you have a house or not and the timing is something that we govern, and we can influence. Right now, there is ungoverned space in between these gaps … and only a Garrison or service provider able to see the entirety of everything that is going on is able to close that gap and integrate a better experience.”
With that in mind, Hung said the Garrison addressed the ungoverned space by using the Emergency Operations Center and Microsoft TEAMS to communicate with the various service providers so that each step of the process was visible and as timely as possible.
The first concern was providing housing on post.
“(This year), we gave them an address and we told them when their house was going to be ready for lease signing, so most people only stayed in temporary lodging for three to five days, and they’re authorized 10 days for temporary lodging expense, so this fits very, very well within that,” Hung said. “Fifty-two families stayed in temporary lodging for one day. That is an unheard of number because most people don’t even know where they’re going. When they show up, they stay in the hotel, and they start their house hunting.
“We changed the entire paradigm of how we bring families in for their PCS,” he said.
Hung said each on-post home also went through several inspections as part of the preparation process.
“(The inspections were) so that there would be no deferred maintenance. That’s also never happened in the history of our project with privatized housing,” Hung said. “We’re really proud of the work that our housing partner, Michaels (Military Housing), has done to achieve this kind of output.”
Along with having the homes ready by time each family arrived, Hung said the second part included making sure household goods arrived in a timely manner.
“Last year, we had stuff sitting up in Omaha, Nebraska, and we had stuff as far as Topeka (Kan.) because everybody pushed their stuff here and there was not enough local storage,” Hung said. “This year, because of everyone knowing their address, everyone knowing when they would be able to arrive, they typically got their stuff delivered in under three days.”
Sgt. Maj. Bill Ferguson, Mission Command Center of Excellence, said he and his family arrived July 31 from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. They experienced the quick turnaround and moved into housing after only three days in temporary lodging.
“The housing office worked a quick turnaround for us and helped synch the move with our (household goods) shipment,” Ferguson said. “The previous tenant wasn’t able to move out due to the transportation company, so there was little time to ‘turnover’ the quarters. Our family is really appreciative.
“The housing office worked wonders. Also, in-processing ‘virtually’ made sure all things were done that were absolutely necessary. This is the best on-post housing we’ve been in,” he said. “We look forward to our kids enjoying the best schools in Kansas and being able to spend some quality time here. We love the small town feel to the post and the proximity to ‘big town’ amenities.”
While the main portion of the PCS process is complete, Hung said there are still two areas being addressed.
“We’re still trying to address child care on Fort Leavenworth … and it’s really tied to not having enough facility space to meet the demand,” Hung said. “The other area that we’re still working through is spouse employment. We have currently 30 spouses expressing interest with spouse employment, and we’re working with them on spouse portability, licensure and certification as they’re coming into Kansas and Missouri so that they can continue in their profession.”
Overall, now that the main portion of summer transition is complete, Hung said he is optimistic about the future of PCS moves across the Army and for Fort Leavenworth residents.
“We know that if every Garrison commander is equipped with the ability to see in real time their housing information and their transportation, they’ll be able to see what is actually lined up correctly and what is not,” Hung said. “If we are fully resourced, my hope is that instead of … filling out multiple forms, one form will feed all of the service providers and that we’ll have something on an app linked to our digital Garrison app so that they can see the process along the way. …We’re not quite there yet, but that’s kind of the dream and the vision.
“For now, my hope is that (students) can focus on their academic studies, and they can focus on taking care of their kids,” Hung said. “For permanent party, I hope that they will not have to worry about the PCS move because we’ve taken care of all the things that we can take care of in an orderly manner and that they have a great PCS experience and can focus on living, working and building relationships and performing in their work role or in the academic world.”
The Army Residential Community Initiative housing survey will launch Oct. 1 and be open through Oct. 30.