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COVID-19 doesn't stop Fort Bragg's 'people first' mission, garrison commander says

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: December 8, 2020

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A global pandemic has changed operations at Fort Bragg but hasn't stopped the main mission of the installation's garrison, the garrison's newest commander said Monday.

Helping oversee the day-to-day operations of the garrison similar to a city mayor, Col. Scott Pence has been on the job for a little more than 125 days.

Pence arrived in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

"As the senior commander takes in all of the different factors for the health protection condition level, we are adapting and adjusting to make sure we're still providing the best quality of life possible to soldiers, families and retirees who are on the installation," Pence said Monday.

Fort Bragg's health protection condition level is at a "Charlie," which means there is a substantial threat of an epidemic outbreak and determines which activities are safe or unsafe on the post.

Since changing operations in the spring, Pence said Fort Bragg's directorates have found ways to continue to provide services — from identification card updates, to counseling or providing the Soldiers for Life and transition program.

When possible, some offices are teleworking or using online platforms for meetings all while providing the "same level of service that soldiers and families and retirees deserve," he said.

And the pandemic hasn't stopped projects that were slated to start at Fort Bragg this year.

Construction for a new outdoor recreation center at Smith Lake is about 90% complete and expected to open in summer 2021, Pence said.

The area will include an access ramp for people in wheelchairs or with disabilities.

In January, the new Canopy Lane access control point is expected to open.

"Mainly what it comes down to when you ask people why it keeps getting delayed, it's down to inclement weather days because you can't plan everything exactly to what the future will hold."

On the horizon heading into 2021, Pence said an intergovernmental services agreement with the North Carolina Department of Transportation is in the works and awaiting top Army-level approval.

Pence said the agreement would allow the Department of Transportation to rehabilitate Fort Bragg roads at a cost savings of $400,000 per mile of road maintenance, compared to if the project was contracted out through the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We have a lot of great projects coming up and especially what I see in 2021, it really is a year of execution for a few big building projects here on Fort Bragg," Pence said. "And then in the out years, after 2021, we're making the case for why Fort Bragg needs certain assets."

One of the biggest projects, he said, is a $90 million project to replace the runway at Pope Army Airfield with concrete as opposed to asphalt to extend its life.

The project is expected to start in summer 2021, as construction requirements and conditions are currently being outlined.

With all the projects, Pence said there's a focus on the chief of staff of the Army's strategy to put "people first."

"It places things like grounds improvement, housing — that's both barracks and family housing — spouse employment, childcare and schools at those things that really impact soldiers, families and retirees' quality of life as a top priority for the Army," he said.

Coinciding with that focus are new applications for work order requests.

Pence said soldiers and families who live in housing in barracks are great at reporting work orders there "because they live it."

The applications will extend to allowing them to report problems for issues such as roads and potholes, which allows the Directorate of Public Works to better track the issues, he said.

One of the applications for reporting, the Army Maintenance Application, known as ArMa, will launch Jan. 1, and is geared toward tracking maintenance orders in barracks.

Pence said it'll allow soldiers to provide feedback and track the status of the work in "real time."

Another newer application, which has already launched, is the digital garrison application, which is through a partnership with the Army, Army and Air Force Exchange Services, and Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

The digital garrison application is geared toward soldiers new to Fort Bragg and provides maps and phone numbers to "get around post," Pence said.

"One of the things that we're focusing on here is kind of a back to basics mentality, and that goes from barracks maintenance of where soldiers are getting information and just how to take care of their rooms and how to do work orders," Pence said.

He said the 18th Airborne Corps' top enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Holland, is also holding leaders accountable to check on rooms and ensure work orders match what is seen in the barracks.

"And by doing that, that kind of mitigates some of the risks from this leadership transition," Pence said, adding that deputy garrison commander Justin Mitchell will leave Fort Bragg this week, and garrison Command Sgt. Maj. William Lohmeyer is expected to leave in January.

Aside from online applications or communicating Fort Bragg updates on social media, Pence has also started a new initiative for weekly or bi-weekly podcasts to update the Fort Bragg community when there isn't a quarterly town hall meeting or monthly community information exchange meeting.

"People are used to seeing certain things at Fort Bragg, and everything's different in 2020 ...," he said, using as an example the annual tree-lighting ceremony that was held virtually this year. "So we want to make sure we're doing the right controls that don't bring crowds when there's no necessary need for that."

And though there have been precautions to reduce crowds at Fort Bragg, Pence said the sense of community remains.

"Fort Bragg might have the most supportive community in the world as far as from military posts, because you just can feel it when you go off post," he said.

This Thanksgiving, community members provided Thanksgiving meals to soldiers, and soldiers donated about 18,000 pounds of food brought to unit headquarters to give to the Fayetteville community.

"And all of which was contactless and socially distanced," Pence said.

riley@fayobserver.com

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