FSBP helps to improve housing quality for junior-enlisted troops
Story by: Pamela Redford
1ST INF. DIV. POST
Since October 2009, Fort Riley's First Sergeants Barracks Program has thrived by making living accommodations better for E-5 and below single Soldiers. Now, 15 Department of the Army civilians continue the work a staff of more than 60 began in November 2009.
The contract with Best Value Services is no more, according to Steve Milton, unaccompanied personnel housing/First Sergeants Barracks Program branch chief, Housing Division, Directorate of Public Works.
The program was once a combined government and contractor operation, and although budget cuts changed the game for DPW, Milton said, the quality of service Soldiers receive remains the same.
Essentially, the First Sergeants Barracks Program seeks to facilitate the process of housing Soldiers to alleviate the administrative tasks company commanders and first sergeants used to do, Milton said. Before Congress began the Armywide initiative in 2007, each first sergeant had his own barracks to manage.
Tasks like assignments and terminations, key control, accountability, financial liability for damages, service orders, work orders, repairs and utilities are no longer the burden of the command.
While the command's workload might be a bit lighter, Milton said the authority and command presence remains unchanged. Charge of Quarters shifts are still maintained by Soldiers.
"We want the first sergeant and command actively involved in where their Soldiers (are) placed. We do the administrative portion of it, but they tell us what they want," Milton said.
While room assignments are carried out by the First Sergeants Barracks Program, it is the command that requests them, Milton said. The First Sergeants Barracks Program manages about 7,000 rooms.
"We run the largest hotel in the state of Kansas – almost 7,000 check ins, not necessarily on a daily basis. We get a phone call a minute, plus walk-in traffic," said Brian Wells, First Sergeants Barracks Program assignments and terminations manager.
Since the First Sergeants Barracks Program's inception at Fort Riley, it has become much more efficient, Milton said. Now, all brigade and brigade elements are served by garrison staff, streamlining the process.
Shortly after a Soldier arrives at Fort Riley and begins in-processing, he is housed in Building 214 or 208 – U.S. Army Garrison facilities – until the four- or five-day process is complete. During in-processing, First Sergeants Barracks Program staff members begin prodding the battalion to decide where it wants its Soldier, Milton said.
By the time in-processing is complete, the Soldier receives a unit assignment, a packet with keys and housing information and is ready to go to permanent quarters.
This is a recent improvement to the First Sergeants Barracks Program, Milton said. When the program first began, Soldiers used to ship within two hours of arrival to temporary housing, and then they were moved around a lot as unit assignments were determined.
"Instead of having to move several times following in-processing, now Soldiers only move once," Milton said.
This improves the quality of how junior enlisted single Soldiers live, he said, and gives the operation a feel that is similar to off-post property management operations.
"We strive to make our single Soldier living accommodations commensurate to what they deserve as warriors, just like we do our married folks' home," Milton said.
The First Sergeants Barracks Program promises every Soldier access to a bed, mattress with a cover, desk and carrel, under bed drawers, night stand, lamp, microwave and refrigerator, he said.
Army barracks have evolved in recent years, Wells said, to one person per room with built-in closets, kitchenettes and bathtubs. Design and construction of modern single Soldier living spaces has moved away from the common use latrine barracks, with two or more people in a large room with bathrooms down the hall.
Now, barracks are built or renovated to the Department of Defense standard or "one plus ones." Individual sleeping rooms, kitchenettes and full bathrooms with tubs are just a few of the upgrades, Wells said.
"It has really been such an improvement in the quality of life for our single Soldiers, thanks to Congress," he said.
"I think we have the model for how the Army should do this," Milton added.
Seeing a Soldier get the keys to his home and knowing the First Sergeants Barracks Program has made it as nice as it can possibly be is what Milton said he loves about his job.
"We want to support the Soldier and the command as much as possible to be a combat multiplier for them. Our jobs exist because of Soldiers, and that's what we're here for … we fully appreciate that we don't exist without them," he said. "These people do something for us that less than 2 percent of the (American) population is willing to raise their hand and support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. If you ask me, every man and woman who signs that dotted line and raises their right hand – that's a hero."