Col. Joseph Messina (center) addresses the audience during a town hall Nov. 7 at Fort Belvoir, Va. Messina shifted the focus from previous housing town halls to a more community-based approach. (Photo by Paul Lara, Public Affairs)
For those who are frequent attendees of Garrison-led town halls, you might have noticed a different vibe on Nov. 7. Instead of the usual Quarterly Housing Town Hall, which focused mostly on housing and neighborhood issues, the Garrison Command Team decided to rebrand the event as a Community Town Hall, opening the door to all Department of Defense employees, single Soldiers, and retirees in the surrounding community to share their thoughts and ask questions of the command team during the 90-minute event.
Col. Joseph V. Messina, Garrison Commander, gave his reasoning for the change during his opening remarks to the more than 50 people assembled in the Directorate of Human Resources classroom and dozens of people joining in on Facebook Live. “We have a requirement to do a quarterly housing town hall,” he said, “but I want to talk about everything the garrison encompasses, and that is more than just housing. I want to hear from everybody.”
Like most town halls, Messina invited several of his directorates focused on housing to share updates. Ben Stearns, Garrison Housing Office, shared an update on the levels of escalation for residents on the installation. Sandra Davis, housing ombudsman, discussed the various opening for village mayors and deputy mayors of the 15 villages on post. Melissa Cramer, project lead for The Villages at Belvoir, gave the audience an update on several housing initiatives, and Phil Goff, industrial hygienist, discussed ways to counter mold in both the home and workplace.
Two ways that Goff said can go a long way to preventing mold was changing HVAC filers every three months and cleaning up water spills on carpets. “If you have a spill at home or a water refilling station at work that is constantly leaking on the floor,” he added, “get that fixed quickly. It’s a great place for mold to grow.”
Next, Chief Kevin Good spoke on behalf of the Directorate of Emergency Services, explaining emergency and non-emergency procedures before introducing several members of the DES team who discussed installation access and other law enforcement issues. Lt. Amani Simpson-Stokes also addressed the crowd, explaining her duties as the Fort Belvoir Police Community Liaison. Kevin Rennick, director of Human Resources, discussed the re-opening of Barden Education Center and upcoming education opportunities for Service Members and Families.
Director George Dickson gave an update on Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation events, including the Winterfest and Tree Lighting event on Dec. 2. Finally, Leo Duran provided a quick rundown of the Combined Federal Campaign and shared the campaign slogan “Give Happy.” He also added that if everyone gave about $12, then Fort Belvoir would easily reach its campaign goal of $10,000.
The majority of the town hall was focused on answering questions from both the assembled audience in the DHR classroom and those watching via Facebook Live. Questions ranged from disposing of bulk items and hazardous materials on post to dog parks in the Villages. Messina directed the questions to the experts in his staff, especially housing inquiries and issues aimed at the Housing Office, The Villages at Belvoir, or Directorate of Public Works.
During one question regarding gutters and mold, a resident expressed frustration at the level of care she had received based on the number of work orders she had submitted over a six-month period. Messina stressed that our residents should never feel that level of frustration, explaining that residents have an avenue if they ever feel ignored.
“This is exactly why we talk about levels of escalation,” he said. “When you’re getting frustrated and not receiving the answer you want, the ombudsman is a garrison employee who is here to advocate on your behalf with our Village partners and other agencies on the installation. When you get to that frustration level, let us help you.”
Messina and CSM Garth Newell, Garrison Command Sergeant Major, were pleased to see several new faces in the audience for the Community Town Hall, especially the faces belonging to a group of young, single Soldiers belonging to the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program who live in McRee Barracks. The Soldiers also had questions for the Garrison Command Team regarding conditions in the barracks which included kitchen ventilation and shower drain issues.
Matt Brackett, interim director of Public Works, explained the process of getting these issues resolved. “We have two dedicated maintenance individuals who work out of McRee,” he said. “Their sole job is taking care of our Soldiers in the barracks. I encourage you to turn in the work orders and have them come out and look at the problem.”
Brienna Pruce, military spouse and Fort Belvoir resident, attended the Community Town Hall with the goal of getting to know the community leadership and village mayors. She said that she was impressed by the inclusive atmosphere of the Garrison Team and their interest in making the installation better.
“We are already facing enough obstacles as military families to not feel heard or validated, or not see any follow-through afterwards,” she added. “I am grateful that our Garrison Team continues to make the improvements necessary to preserve our welfare and happiness.”
After the Question-and-Answer session, Messina closed the event by thanking everyone for taking the time on a school night to attend. “I want to thank you all again for coming out here in person, and especially the single Soldiers who represent the BOSS team,” he said. “It was great to see all of you, and we definitely have some due outs tonight.”
If you were unable to make the event, you can watch it on Fort Belvoir’s Facebook Page. The slides presented during the event are available on the Fort Belvoir webpage at home.army.mil/belvoir/application/files/8316/9946/4829/Quarterly_Community_Town_Hall_7NOV_Final.pdf.
As always, if you have a question, please reach out to the Fort Belvoir Public Affairs Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jason Shepherd, Deputy Public Affairs Officer