View of Washington, D.C., from historic Whipple Field on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall earlier this month. Glenn Wait, inset photo, poses for a photo on Whipple Field — he departs the base Friday after serving five years as the chief of staff. Photo illustration by Mike Howard

Behind-the-scenes leader ‘keeps the lights on’ at showcase base

On Friday, Glenn Wait leaves his office in Bldg. 59 on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall for the last time. This marks the end of a significant chapter not only in his career, but also in the transition of leadership in the military community here. 

Wait has been the behind-the-scenes leader for three base commanders.

After serving as the base chief of staff and leading a civilian staff of more than 500 employees since 2015, next week he begins a new job in U.S. Army Installation Management Command where he becomes the chief of staff for the training directorate at Fort Eustis, Virginia. 

The training directorate oversees 15 installations in the United States that support U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Spectacular View

On a cool fall morning this month, as Wait walked across historic Whipple Field on the Fort Myer portion of the base for a photograph to accompany this article, he recalled how he walked around Fort Myer and Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, to get a feeling for the community before going to his office for the first time.

“The view from Whipple was awe-inspiring,” Wait said. “I was excited to know that I would be part of this storied history. Knowing that the origin of Fort Myer was to ‘showcase’ the Army — I was proud to be part of such a professional team.

“I realized the historic nature and how critical the job would be — ensuring service members, civilians and Families are provided with the services they need to perform their mission.”

Whipple Field is an iconic representation of the historic nature of the joint base. 

The joint base was formed in 2009, bringing together Forts McNair, Myer and Henderson Hall. Fort Myer was established from two Army posts, which were built during the Civil War — Fort Cass in 1861 and Fort Whipple in 1863. McNair dates back to 1791 and Henderson Hall began in 1942.

The view of Washington, D.C., in the morning light brought to mind another view Wait saw daily.

“Every morning the caissons would pass by, Soldiers sitting tall in the saddle laser focused on the mission in front of them,” Wait recalled. “Every afternoon those same Soldiers passed by my office window as they had completed their mission for the day, remarkably still sitting tall in the saddle demonstrating their professionalism.  

“I would use this analogy with those I led, reminding them that we, too, as IMCOM professionals, owe it to all to demonstrate professionalism in everything we do.”  

Significant Mission

The caisson platoon Wait mentioned is part of 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), which is located on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base. The platoon supports the many funeral services at the Old Post Chapel and burials or interments at Arlington National Cemetery. The Old Guard also supports many salutes to the president, ceremonies for high-level officials to include foreign dignitaries and defense efforts in the area. 

Gaining this sense proved invaluable during his tenure with the base because it validated in his mind what IMCOM does. In addition to Joint Task Force National Capital Region/Military District of Washington and The Old Guard, the joint base today supports partner organizations such as the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters and Services Company, The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Ow,” the National Defense University, the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Andrew Rader Health Clinic and numerous other organizations in the NCR.

The base serves a community of about 150,000 service members, retirees, civilian employees and Families. 

When Wait entered the base headquarters for the first time after his walk in 2015, he read an old framed letter in the hallway near his new office from the commander of MDW in 1993, which announced that Fort Myer would be joined with Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., as the Fort Myer Military Community. 

With that title, the commander officially established the two forts as the showcase installation for the Army. This was actually an extension of a mindset about Fort Myer since after the Civil War when the fort began to be the home of many communication and technology firsts. In 1887, the Army’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, designated Myer as the showcase and home of the U.S. Army Cavalry.

Legacy of Contributions

There is simply no easy way to quantify the impact Wait has had on the community, according to Col. Kimberly Peeples, JBM-HH commander since April 2018.

“Glenn leaves a legacy here at America’s Post,” she said. “He is a tremendous leader and an installation management expert. He is focused on people, while developing and managing talent, to build a strong and effective team. Glenn cares about people and the mission — and it shows.

“He exemplifies the Army civilian creed and leads by example at all times. I know he will continue to improve our installations. Glenn and his wife Julie are selfless servants.  We are grateful that they will continue to lead our Army at the next level.”

Peeples provided some examples of Wait’s contributions:

·        Improved service delivery, installation support activities, base operations and long-term planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and other contingencies as well as routine operations

·        Built a trusting relationship with leadership and employees of the base, implementing innovative workforce recognition and development opportunities 

·        Led support for numerous high-profile events, including two presidential inaugurations, presidential visits to the base and ceremonies for the Department of Defense’s most senior military and civilian leaders  

·        Fostered a mutually supportive relationship with leaders in Arlington County, District of Columbia and Northern Virginia that helped establish strong partnerships between the base, other military installations and surrounding municipalities in the region

Early Mark

Wait made his mark on the installation from the start, according to the two commanders who were here before Peeples.

“Glenn professionalized the workforce, ensured systems and processes were being used correctly and that leaders were held accountable,” said Col. Michael Henderson, chief of staff for the U.S. Army First Army Division West at Fort Hood, Texas. Henderson was the JBM-HH commander from August 2014 to June 2016. 

“During my tenure, force protection was the highest priority as ISIS was terrorizing soft targets all over the world. This problem set became my No. 1 focus, so Glenn ensured that the remaining functions and directorates continued to execute to the highest standards and we were able to continue to provide first class service to our residents and installation partners.”

Pat Duggan, who retired as a U.S. Army colonel in 2019 and served as JBM-HH commander after Henderson until April 2018, said: “Glenn’s greatest contributions were twofold: unparalleled expertise and a steady hand at the wheel. There is no one in all of IMCOM who knows as much as Glenn does when it comes to installation management, and while base commanders come and go, it was Glenn’s steady hand at the wheel that kept JBM-HH running.”

Duggan noted the high-profile nature of Forts Myer and McNair with the senior military leaders living, working and getting services here.

“Without Glenn’s pearls of wisdom on how best to navigate the military political battles, I probably would have left command sooner!”  

Lasting Impact on People

This impact went deeper than touching the systems, processes and programs of the joint base, according to leaders who worked for him.

Wait made things happen, according to Eric Gordon, who is filling in as the chief of staff during the transition. Gordon’s normal job is to be the chief of Plans, Analysis and Integration Office.

“On many occasions, I’ve seen where he inserts himself to assist us in getting ‘unstuck’ whether it be with higher headquarters or stovepipe issues with colleagues,” Gordon said. “His focus on trust, collaboration, organizational growth and mission readiness is clearly seen in how he operates and the example he sets daily.”  

And he touched peoples’ lives.

“My respect for him inspires me to be better and emulate his keys to success,” he said.

Tom Sivak saw this firsthand. Sivak, who is filling in for Gordon in PAIO, is normally the commander’s executive officer where he worked closely with Wait.  

“As a retired command sergeant major, I thought I knew everything about leadership,” said Sivak. “Then I started working for Mr. Wait and observed him in action at close range. Mr. Wait taught me the finer points of leadership and his positive impact on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall can’t be measured.

“He has my complete respect and the respect of the entire workforce.”

Phil Santee, installation safety officer, wrote in an email that he had hoped to be able to work for Wait longer.

“Mr. Wait has been one of the most distinctive leaders I have had the chance to work with,” Santee said. “He has a unique ability to motivate leaders to lead, and influence an organization to do more.  It’s been just over one year since I started working with Mr. Wait, but in that short time he has changed my perspective on what it means to be a successful leader and I have no doubt it will have a positive impact in my life and the lives of many others.”

Eric Cope, director of the Directorate of Public Works, said, “To start with, I’ve never seen the man have a bad day. His positive energy is infectious. (I) can’t tell you how many times he’s called simply to ask how I’m doing. Not how I’m doing and then give me tasks. He literally just calls to ask about me and to see if there’s anything he can do to help. He’s the kind of leader that makes me want to be a better leader.” 

Lasting Impressions on Bosses Too

These sentiments were echoed by Wait’s bosses.

“This leader is the most talented and selfless senior Department of the Army civilian I have ever worked with,” said Henderson. “He is a leader, he is professional, he is competent and he is fair. He is even-tempered and leads by example. My favorite quote from Glenn is ‘know the rules, win the game.’ Glenn ensured we did the right things right. Any success I had at JBM-HH is due in large part to Glenn's leadership and counsel.”  

Duggan highlighted Wait’s nature.

“This is a true professional in every sense of the word — thoughtful, selfless and knowledgeable,” Duggan said. “He truly cares about his people and symbolizes the very best of our nation’s civilian leaders. He is a tremendous asset to the nation and no doubt some of America’s largest cities stand envious of the talent the Army’s got!”

For Peeples, she will always remember what her chief of staff taught her through his leadership character.

“Glenn’s No. 1 focus is people,” she said. “He taught me to care more and to spend time where it matters most. I am forever grateful for Glenn’s mentorship and insight.  The garrison team of today is Glenn’s legacy. He and Julie will be sorely missed.”     

An Early Mentor

Wait started his career as a Soldier. He joined the Army as an administrative clerk in 1982 from his hometown of Macedon, New York.

“I was looking for purpose and focus,” he said. “The best part of my decision to join the Army is that it is where I met and then married Julie.”

However, it was a senior civilian employee who helped put him on his professional path by asking if Wait had ever considered being an Army civilian employee. This led Wait to earn his college degree while on active duty. Then, one day in 1990, he took off his uniform and put on a civilian coat and tie, beginning his civilian career at the U.S. Navy Yard in D.C.

“He invested in my development,” Wait said of the civilian leader. “I once asked him why he did that. He said that his investment would pay off, as he knew that I would become a senior leader in the Army and knew that I would then do the same for others.

“He was right,” Wait said. “The best move I ever made was transitioning to become an Army civilian employee.”

It was with this early grounding that Wait learned it was all about people and helping them to feel a sense of purpose.

“Our business is about art and science,” he said. “The science part is easy as we have the best of the best doing what they do.  The harder part is the art because that is about leading people. This allows me to demonstrate purpose.  

“Purpose has power and it is the reason why we do what we do. Leadership with purpose is aspirational.”

He added that he felt the JBM-HH team united around purpose and, as a direct result, purpose became the reason and driving force for the team’s success. 

“Purpose made each person’s work more personal to them, more impactful and most importantly, more empowering,” he said. “This is why people are important to me.”

Senior Civilian Leader’s Role

Wait served as the senior civilian leader in two Army garrisons prior to coming to JBM-HH. It was in these jobs that he learned and practiced an important way for him.

“The commander is the front man or woman of the organization and the chief of staff or deputy garrison commander is the person who keeps the lights on,” he said. “These leaders, depending on the type of garrison organization they are in, are also the senior civilian and, most critically, have the job to ensure that all the members of the organization have the resources they need to complete the mission.”

Some of the efforts Wait feels most proudly about from his time here include:

·        Organizing and holding the first Workforce Development Symposium in 2019

·        Implementing an IMCOM Child Day Care Center organizational design pilot to reduce supervisor-to-employee ratio by 30%

·        Transitioning the JBM-HH workforce to a mostly telework organization as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — this had never been done before to this level and the joint base was able to continue its mission

Final Thoughts

As he took in the view from Whipple Field earlier this month, Wait thought back on his time here.

“It is hard to believe that time has passed so quickly,” he said quietly. “This view is just as awe-inspiring today as it was the first day I saw it.  

Then he paused before saying, “Another interesting thought was that as a young Soldier I spent a little time on the parade field at Fort Myer. Who would have thought that many years ago this is where I would be?

“I also feel that I am leaving JBM-HH a better place as a result of the team that supported me. JBM-HH is still the showcase.”

 

By Mike Howard

Special to the Pentagram