SEOUL — U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan has been selected as one the Army’s top three installations in the 2008 worldwide Army Communities of Excellence competition.

It’s big news for the garrison and comes not only with bragging rights but with a $750,000 prize the command can use for the community.

More importantly, said garrison commander Col. David Hall during a Friday morning interview, it helps highlight U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell’s push to make South Korea a family-friendly duty assignment.

Of 179 Army installations, Yongsan placed third behind second-place Fort George G. Meade, Md., and first-place finisher Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

“We are ecstatic,” Hall said. “We worked very hard as a community to get where we are right now.”

Since most of the garrison is slated to be turned back over to South Korea as the U.S. military moves its troops out of Seoul in the next few years, Hall said he cannot spend a lot of money on the aging infrastructure.

Of the nine installations that comprise his garrison, only K-16 air base will remain after 2012.

Hall said the road to the award began last year, when nearly 500 garrison employees filled out an organizational self-assessment. He said those assessments helped show “friction points within the organization” and “the maturity levels and customer focus, work force focus.”

The employees — both U.S. and South Korean — were given the opportunity to candidly express their opinions on a series of issues.

The Army uses the same criteria used by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, created by the former Secretary of Commerce, to assess itself on seven areas, including leadership; strategic planning; customer and mission focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; work force focus; process management; and required results.

An external program manager used Yongsan’s data to create a feedback report identifying the garrison’s strengths and weaknesses, Hall said.

“It’s kind of a road map,” he said.

The garrison submitted a 52-page award nomination packet in August and learned a few months later it was one of the top four finalists. A Department of Army team visited the garrison in November to verify the garrison’s packet.

Hall said the team takes a hard look at the “linkages between the garrison” and what he calls stakeholders — the community residents.

“In spite of the fact that many of our facilities are old — in some cases 50 years old — we’ve managed to fix them to a level that is OK with our stakeholders,” Hall said. “It’s a huge accomplishment.”

Hall credited Barry Robinson from the garrison’s Plans, Analysis and Integration Office with leading the nomination project.

“He single-handedly guided us in the right direction on this,” he said.

Hall also thanked Installation Management Command-Korea Region commander Brig. Gen. Al Aycock, who earned a first-place prize in the contest while commanding at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“He knows this stuff, and he brought with him to Korea the spirit that we will compete and that we will get better and we will raise the bar,” Hall said.

Aycock was out of South Korea on temporary duty but responded to a Stars and Stripes query in an e-mail, saying the Yongsan award was a team effort between the garrison, IMCOM and the troops and families.

“Everyone can be proud of being part of an Army Community of Excellence as it takes a tremendous amount of dedication to reach this level and commitment to sustain the superior effort over time,” Aycock said.

Hall said there are no plans to relax now.

“We expect to continue to get better,” he said. “We broke through the top three and we hope to be to continue to compete ... and maybe win it someday.”

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