Russell Hall ended six years as director of the Installation Management Command-Europe on Thursday.

Russell Hall ended six years as director of the Installation Management Command-Europe on Thursday. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Russell Hall was feeling a little nostalgic Thursday.

Just hours before a ceremony to send him on his way and welcome his successor, he thought about his six years in Europe spent trying to provide housing, child care, counseling and affordable gasoline to soldiers and their families — in a very turbulent time.

"It’s bittersweet memories," said Hall, until Thursday the Installation Management Command director for Europe. "IMCOM-E has known nothing but war."

IMCOM-E was created in 2002 as part of an initiative to focus management of Army bases under one organization instead of various military commanders, and in theory promote more consistent, efficient services. Hall, a former Army garrison commander, became one of six regional directors and the overseer of all U.S. Army properties in Europe.

"We’ve had to grow up as an institution, managing garrisons … all that time we’ve also been wedded to taking care of soldiers and families," Hall said.

The mandate, which runs the gamut from drivers’ licenses to child care to housing and force protection, also had to be met in the midst of a significant U.S. Army drawdown in Europe.

"Fifty to 60 percent of our work force is family members, "Hall said. "So you have challenges keeping people working in your commissaries and [post exchanges]."

Months ago, in fact, when the Army provided extra money for programs to aid families of deployed soldiers — called the "Family Covenant" — Hall cautioned that the money would be no help if he couldn’t hire staffers for child-care centers and Army Community Services.

But on Thursday, he said he’d hired for all but one of the slots in Army Community Services: 111 social workers, counselors, financial planners, he said.

Child care, he said remains "problematic" in places — especially in Grafenwöhr and Baumholder — where the spouses of deployed soldiers often decide they’re too busy at home to work at a child-care center.

Hall said he thought his greatest success in six years had been the construction of the Netzaberg housing area in Grafenwöhr. The 830 off-post housing units, he said, had been constructed because he’d been able to persuade the German government to provide 230 million euros in loan guarantees to the German-Danish-Swedish investment conglomerate that funded construction.

"I love chess, and this is like chess," Hall said.

But sometimes the complexity of the game took on a life of its own. The new gas credit cards come to mind. "I really wish I could have gotten that accomplished four years ago," Hall said.

Replacing the coupon system took years and years of negotiations with the German government, Esso and the Army, Air Force and Navy exchange services.

"Everybody came together and then we just had to hammer out those 29 issues," Hall said. "Bless their hearts."

Another regret, Hall said, was delays in getting facilities built in Wiesbaden for the planned relocation there of numerous commands, including U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army.

"I would have liked to have seen us complete the Wiesbaden expansion and move more quickly," Hall said. But the huge amount of money to do that has yet to be appropriated.

Hall is making a lateral move, to become director of IMCOM-Northeast Region in the States. He is replacing Diane Devens there, who is replacing Hall here.

Jobs aren’t the only things they’re switching. "She’s moving into my house and I’m moving into her house," Hall said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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