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Enterprise Talent Management Program attendee learns Fort Riley work ethics

By Kelly Sandifer | INSTALLATION MANAGEMENT COMMAND | July 27, 2016

     It’s been said that “we only know what we experience” or “where we stand on a position or issue is directly related to where we sit”.  I’m not sure where I first heard these two quotes but it was most likely while attending the Combined Arms Services Staff School or at the Command and General Staff College many years ago; probably during one of many seminars we attended whenever a high-ranking official visited.  These quotes stayed with me and I use them often because, quite frankly, they are appropriate in most situations.  Although somewhat satirical, they are no truer than in the business of Installation Management. 

     I work for Headquarters, U.S. Army Installation Management Command located in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas; an organization that is essentially the higher headquarters for U.S. Army Garrison Fort Riley and similarly comprised mostly of Department of the Army civilians. I’ve worked there as a civilian for six years after spending nearly 23 years in uniform.  As a Soldier, I served all over the world and at all echelons; company, battalion, brigade, division, corps and above corps.  I even served in the 1st Infantry Division in Germany as service battery commander in the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and as commander of the Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Inf. Div.

     Because I only knew what I experienced, my knowledge of installation management was based on my experience in the Army.  Not a problem, right … not really.  As I worked projects, programs and initiatives inside IMCOM Headquarters to support garrisons, I felt I didn’t have a complete understanding of what the needs and challenges are at that level, nor did I have the perspective of the operations inside a garrison.  I quickly discovered that with my experience, or lack thereof, I could no longer say, “I spent 23 years in the Army so I know how to handle this situation with Fort “Pick-a-post” that wasn’t working. 

     As soon as I realized the deficiency in my experience and perspective; a deficiency that resulted in an inability to adequately address issues at the garrison level and to recommend solutions to the problems facing a typical post, I began a personal campaign to close the gap.  This campaign brought me to Fort Riley by way of the U.S. Army Enterprise Talent Management Program; a program by which the Army prepares GS-12s and GS-13s to gain professional senior-level educational, developmental learning and experiential opportunities to assume duty positions of greater responsibility across the department.  Under the ETM – TDY program, participants fill a 90-day or less developmental assignment on a special project as a member of a working group, tiger team or fill a critical-need detail — see U.S. Army STAND TO! article at army.mil/standto/archive_2015-04-30/.

     The experiences I gained by spending 90 days at Fort Riley and the Flint Hills Region taught me what?  Simply put – a tremendous amount. I’ve taken hundreds of pages of notes as I visited each directorate within the Fort Riley garrison and I have gained a tremendous amount of insight and perspective on garrison operations.  I’ve seen the unique relationship between the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Riley and IMCOM Headquarters, the good and the not so good.  I say unique because typically an O-6 commander does not report directly to a 3-star commander. Additionally, the garrison commander has more than 60 direct connections that include other organizations on an installation as well as all the local political and business connections needed to keep community relations intact.  However, like with most Army organizations, there are challenges.  What I do want to do is focus on and share with you the one thing that I was not prepared to discover – the workforce culture of Fort Riley.

     The workforce culture at Fort Riley is all about taking care of Soldiers, families, civilians, retirees, wounded warriors, survivors and anyone else who walks in the door, calls on the phone, sends an email or posts a comment to social media.  Looking at all of this activity from the outside, I previously understood this to be superior customer service.  I did not realize the amount of passion and dedication it takes to deliver this superior customer service and I did not expect to witness the passion, drive and dedication possessed by each person I talked to during the past 90 days.  Every person I met in post workforce is invested in Fort Riley and the Flint Hills communities.  They chose to live here, they chose to work here and they all want to stay here because, to use another common quote, “they have skin in the game.”

     The Fort Riley workforce will do what it takes to make Fort Riley the best Fort Riley can be and will do so without regard to whose responsibility it is to accommodate the customer’s request, and sometimes they serve their customers on their own time.  This was extremely evident during the Victory Week events.  Let me also share a few other examples.

     During Operation Danger Focus, a garrison employee brought pizza out to the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex for the Soldiers and civilians who were working the weekend.  This is in addition to many other garrison employees from nearly every directorate stopping by events and activities after hours and on weekends to make sure everything from a garrison perspective was running smoothly.  Second, during the time I spent with the Public Affairs Office someone from outside the Fort Riley area had clicked on the “contact us” button on the Fort Riley website to ask how to acquire a baseball cap for their Big Red One veteran relative.  My immediate thought — that I kept to myself — was this is not a PAO responsibility, but the garrison PAO employee didn’t miss a beat and contacted the Fort Riley Museum Gift Shop to confirm they could mail the requested baseball cap and relayed that information with a phone number to the requester.  These are just two simple examples, but these type of things happen every day in every directorate and I quickly learned that a Fort Riley garrison employee will only transfer a request for assistance of any type to someone else “only” after they cannot physically meet the request themselves.  I could go on and on with more examples, but let’s just say nothing happens on Fort Riley without someone from the garrison staff being personally involved and they will usually go above the call of duty to make it happen.  The Fort Riley workforce takes care of its customers — and everyone else.

     The area of workforce development, where the leaders of Fort Riley allow for development of their own workforce was another area where I not only witnessed, but also benefited from myself.  The Fort Riley workforce is comprised of lifelong learners who seek to make themselves the best they can be; professionally and personally.  At the heart of this lifelong learning culture is the deputy garrison commander, Mr. Tim Livsey, who leads by example.  He is often quoted saying Fort Riley grows agile, versatile, capable civilian leaders who will come to work tomorrow better than they were today; committed to lifelong learning, as employees, co-workers, teammates, spouses and parents.  This culture is completely in line with the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby’s vision that Fort Riley is a leader development factory for both Soldiers and civilians and is in direct support of the priorities of Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the IMCOM Commanding General.  At the pinnacle of the lifelong learning culture is the Civilian Leader and Workforce Development Program.  The CLWFD was developed by a Fort Riley garrison employee to provide avenues for the workforce to attend no-cost college courses, job skills enhancement seminars and provide connections to other self-development resources.  These things are available not only to the civilian workforce but to all Army personnel — Soldiers and civilians.

     All of this was packaged into the CLWFD program for easy access and execution.  I for one can attest to this having had the benefit of participating in many of the job skills enhancement seminars and becoming aware of a few online resources like Ted Talks at www.tedtalks.com and Books24x7 at skillport.books24x7.com from Army e-Learning.  Some may not see the positive impact of CLWFD, but Mr. Livsey stated the Fort Riley workforce is the most educated workforce in the Army (which he admits he cannot prove), and he also claims and can probably show Fort Riley has the lowest workers compensation cost in the Army.  Mr. Livsey attests these statistics to a positive workforce culture borne out of the availability for self-development opportunities.  I have not seen anything like this anywhere else I’ve served.

     The Fort Riley workforce believes Fort Riley is the best place to live, train, serve, deploy from, return home to and retire.  This is commonly quoted by Maj. Gen. Grigsby and other leaders, honestly, I can’t argue with that.  I saw the passion and dedication of the Fort Riley workforce from the day I arrived until today.  I’ve gotten to know some of you rather well, attended church with many of you and was able to enjoy much of what the Flint Hills Region has to offer.  As a matter of fact, I’ve put more miles on my Harley Davidson in the past 90 days, riding many of the back roads surrounding Fort Riley, than I did all of last year.

     You've given me a lot to take back to IMCOM headquarters.  John C. Maxwell, in his book titled “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential,” said for centuries people thought experience was the best teacher.  The earliest recorded version of this saying that I know of came from Roman Emperor Julius Caesar who wrote, “Experience is the teacher of all things,” in 'De Bello Civili' around 52 B.C.  Mr. Maxwell then writes, “With all due respect, I have to disagree with that statement.  Experience is not the best teacher.  Evaluated experience is!  The only reason Caesar was able to make that claim was because he had learned much by reflecting on his life and writing about it.”  Mr. Maxwell further states, “People have innumerable experiences every day, and many learn nothing from them because they never take the time to pause and reflect.  That’s why it is so important to pause and let understanding catch up with us.”  So I will try and do the same … reflect on what I was able to see, experience and learn here.  I want to say, “Thank You”.  Thank you for giving me what I came here for and much more, for letting me be part of your team and reenergizing my desire to make myself better.  You selflessly spent time with me in order to provide me a personal, up close perspective to garrison operations that will enable me to be a better installation management professional. Thank you for the lasting friendships, but more importantly, for your dedication and passion to serve our Soldiers, families, civilians, retirees, wounded warriors and survivors.  I will always cherish the time I spent here, not only for what I gained but for those I met.

     There will be fiscal challenges facing the Army, Installation Management Command and especially Fort Riley.  As Joe Capps, IMCOM Executive Director and Acting Central Region Director, said when he visited Fort Riley, “The hard part will be to decide what services we will no longer be able to provide.  The hardest part of this will be that Fort Riley will not want to ‘not do’ anything.”  The Fort Riley workforce will want to continue to do everything that it does today.  I have no doubt they will figure something out.

     My name is Kelly Sandifer; I was and will always be a Big Red One Soldier and Soldier for Life. Duty First – Service Always!

 

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