1st AD officials eager to help out after seeing wife’s concerns in Stripes letter
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Krista Perron wasn’t sure what she expected when she wrote a scathing letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes complaining that local Army officials were not living up to Gen. B.B. Bell’s promise: “Taking care of our own is our tradition, and we will meet our obligation to you.”
The promise came in the wake of 1st Armored Division’s four-month Middle East extension. In a Stars and Stripes article and Armed Forces Network spots aired repeatedly throughout 1st AD communities, Bell promised, “We will cut through the red tape, we will modify the regulations, we will change policies — all as necessary to support you in the upcoming months.”
But Perron wasn’t convinced.
“When does this ‘taking care of our own’ start?” asked Perron in her letter. She outlined problems she was having trying to persuade local officials to allow her to arrange for shipment of her household goods to Fort Carson, Colo., where she and her husband — a staff sergeant in the division’s Baumholder-based 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment — were slated to move this summer as part of his new re-enlistment contract.
“We want to leave as soon as he gets back,” she said. “I was just trying to get the ball rolling so he wouldn’t have to mess with all that. I was trying to make things easier.”
Army rules, however, say only soldiers can make those arrangements. Perron thought that was ridiculous.
“Where is this assistance and help?” she wrote to Stripes. “No one seems to know what they are talking about. No one is on the same sheet of music. How is this taking care of our own?”
Perron didn’t know what to expect when her letter was published. But 30 minutes after seeing her words in print, she nearly dropped the phone when Brig. Gen. Russell Frutiger called.
“I didn’t know what to say,” said Perron. “I thought I was in trouble, or that I had gotten my husband in trouble.”
Far from it.
When Frutiger saw her letter, he said, “I immediately wanted to talk to her. I asked her what I could do for her.”
Frutiger said he’s glad to see people airing their concerns publicly.
“I don’t think it’s a negative thing at all,” said Frutiger, who stressed there are no rules against sharing opinions with the media or writing letters to the editor.
“There are some pretty unhappy people out there and rightfully so.”
“He was really nice,” said Perron. Frutiger, she said, “was actually apologetic about any inconveniences I might have had.”
Perron’s not the only one who’s been pleasantly surprised.
Bell has ordered all of his top staff to get personally involved in finding the fixes he’s promised family members.
Frutiger said he’s personally gotten involved in about 200 cases, from a new Army wife in Georgia trying to figure out how to move to Germany while her husband is deployed, to a slew of spouses trying to get reimbursed by airlines and travel agencies after vacation plans suddenly were put on hold for four months.
As the top personnel officer for Army forces in Europe, Frutiger’s job has transformed from a regulations-issuing policy czar to more of a family-focused firefighter.
It’s a culture shift he wants to see throughout the entire command.
“I hope by what I do every day, my people will pick up the banner. Like Mrs. Perron’s case: Now she’s telling every one else in the unit you just have to go here and they’ll fix it. It’s an attitude change.”
Frutiger explained many of the regulations that tend to frustrate people are usually there for good reasons.
“But these are not normal times,” said Frutiger. “Army readiness will drive what we do, but the Army recognizes that this extension is not normal, so we will do special things to make this right.”
In Perron’s case, Frutiger’s call was followed by calls from two colonels and a captain. “They were all so understanding,” she said.
More importantly, she said, they took care of business.
Within two days, Perron had the paperwork she needed to begin making arrangements for the move.
“It was amazing,” she said.
“I’m so used to the Army not helping out. Now they’re actually changing the rules to help,” said Perron. “If they hadn’t done this, we’d basically just have to suck it up like we always have. After 10 years, we’ve learned to live with it.”
Perron says now she takes Bell at his word.
“When someone like Gen. B.B. Bell comes along, it’s awesome,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, he really cares!’ What a refreshing change.”