After six-weeks of leading U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, Col. Thomas Pugsley, USAG-KA commander, chose a surprising audience to engage in his first quarterly town hall meeting: the bachelor quarters workforce.
“The fact is that we haven’t been really addressing specific concerns for a sizeable portion of our community,” said Pugsley. “I thought it was appropriate to bring people together to discuss specific concerns, issues and events with the residents of the BQs.”
Nearly one third of Kwajalein’s workforce is comprised of unaccompanied personnel who live in studio apartment-style barracks called bachelor quarters. A diverse population including young professionals, veterans, experienced master tradesmen and technical specialists, BQ residents have supported every sector of mission and base operations support on the garrison since the early 1960s.
Pugsley noted that the BQ workforce has unerringly continued mission support despite the challenges of 2020. Among them are members of the Kwajalein Fire Department and Kwajalein Hospital, who work back-to-back shifts with few full days off to ensure there are zero gaps in island safety services.
During the town hall, Pugsley outlined his vision for increased BQ resident engagement on the island, provided quarantine updates, took questions and posed a few of his own. Following the meeting, garrison personnel will generate an after-action report to be publicized in upcoming weeks.
“My goal is to provide that valued feedback to you to make sure you get the information you need,” said Pugsley.
Quarantine and Travel
Over the past 17 months, the RMI government and USAG-KA have helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 by implementing strict quarantine measures. Their success is evident both in zero transmission and gradual reductions in quarantine days for repatriated Marshallese citizens, returning garrison residents and new island hires.
The most recent change occurred in July: Honolulu quarantine for vaccinated arrivals was reduced from 14 days to seven. Information regarding a possible Department of Defense compulsory vaccination mandate will be made available when further directives are received.
As future quarantine plans are explored, Pugsley is a realist. The recent spike in stateside COVID-19 variants would be met with caution, he said. In all likelihood, COVID will impair free travel for an indeterminate time.
“Everyone’s masked up—even those fully vaccinated,” said Pugsley, of stateside challenges. “Remember how good we have it here. I guess there are some drawbacks—but having lived 18 months in the states under COVID, it is no place I want to return to.”
BQ residents can expect forthcoming updates to the island housing policy to ensure regulations, Pugsley said, “more accurately match the current environment in which we’re operating.”
The garrison DAC team has recently completed a facility structure development plan outlining future goals. Over the next five to six years, maintenance on BQ facilities and common areas is expected to begin. Pugsley would like to do more.
“We tried hard last year to get some projects on the books for BQ renovations,” Pugsley said, adding that investments totaling more than $2 million are needed to support overall upkeep plans. “They are now back on the list. We’re trying hard to keep them prioritized.”
Typical maintenance issues at BQs include concrete spalling and corrosion damage to fixtures like exterior window frames, safety railings and fire doors.
“We are not underwhelming the importance of facilities that support unaccompanied individuals,” Pugsley said. “They are just as important to me. You’re my workforce. You’re my Soldiers. Your buildings are just as important as Soldier barracks back in the states. That’s the perspective me and my team take. We fight our hardest to look at those type of investments to expand opportunities— not just for families, but unaccompanied personnel as well.”
Initiatives and Improvements
Pugsley plans to seek a community-wide consensus before programming new MWR events into the island activities and events calendar. Many of the new activities will be designed with BQ residents in mind.
“I’ve asked the team to expand social activities and events for the singles, unaccompanied and bachelor-type community on the island,” Pugsley said.
As part of this initiative, Pugsley has a few ideas to help get BQ residents involved, outdoors and engaged. Check out a few of the ideas in development:
-A team-oriented Battle of the BQs challenge
-Adults-only community games like scavenger hunts and fantasy football leagues
Updated gaming opportunities at the Ocean View Club, including horseshoes, pool, ping-pong and foosball
-Double-header movie nights provided by MWR
At the end of a long day, those who might instead prefer to quietly relax are included in Pugsley’s plan, too.
“We’re also looking at investments in the BQ common areas,” Pugsley said. “We are trying to improve those and to make all BQ facilities more consistent to give people areas in which they can relax.”
It’s a Partnership
Now six weeks into his tour, Pugsley wants to use his time wisely for the whole community. Included in his duties is the formal redress of poor conduct. Pugsley asks BQ residents to cooperate in fostering a neighborly, peaceable attitude and to self-police any disruptive or poor behavior.
In addition, a forthcoming revision to the garrison’s disciplinary action plan of “strikes” for infractions will explore penalties for failure to adhere to Army regulations.
“It’s all about teamwork,” Pugsley said. “We are all, each one of us, a critical member of this community. And I need everyone working and rowing in the same direction.”
“I want to work on making better MWR activities,” Pugsley said. “I want to work on better infrastructure investments. I want to work on quarantine. I want to open travel. I want to do a bunch of stuff to the betterment of the community. What I don’t want to do is get inundated in policing-level actions. I don’t want to be Draconian. I don’t want to come down from on high and tell you what you can and cannot do. I ask the community to please avoid that. I have no choice if something comes to my attention that is in violation of U.S. Army guidance and policy.”
Here is something to take to heart: For Pugsley, a community self-policing is a far more desirable outcome than garrison involvement.
“I guarantee your solution will be much more acceptable than my solution. I’ll come up with a much easier, 100-percent guaranteed solution.”
Questions and Answers with the Garrison Team
BQ Pet Conduct
As USAG-KA Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega reminded pet owners at the May pet town hall, BQ pets are not authorized to roam freely in or outside the building.
Open Flames in BQs
For fire safety, open flames like candles are not allowed in BQ rooms.
No Smoking in BQs
Smoking inside both BQs and Army Family Housing is not permitted. USAG-KA Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega directed those who encounter issues after duty hours to contact the DES office (5-4445). During hours of operation, folks should contact Facilities Manager Omie Weaver (5-2465). Callers are encouraged to try to report the BQ and room number in their call. The community will be able to find points of contact and phone numbers soon on the AFN roller channel.
Though Pugsley announced developing revisions to the island housing policy, nonemergency issues related to individual BQ quarters—a funny taste in the tap water, for example—can still be reported for maintenance via ArMA, the Army’s online maintenance portal for nonemergency issues.
Issues affecting common areas, such as faulty washers and dryers, should be reported to the Housing desk (5-3550). For more information on ArMA or clarification on filing maintenance reports, BQ residents are encouraged to contact USAG-KA Housing Director Scott Hill (5-0133). He said the garrison has explored upgrades to BQ laundry machines. Instead of residential-style machines, BQs could receive high-volume industrial washers and dryers.
As a side note, BQ laundry facilities are only to be made available to authorized personnel. Those with questions regarding laundry policies should consult Omie Weaver (5-2465).
Being Good Neighbors
BQ residents are reminded to follow posted guidelines related to quiet hours and proper use of trash receptables in and around common areas and shared facilities. Maintenance should also extend to maintaining order in bike parking areas.
Residents are encouraged to identify trashed items and abandoned bike frames for disposal. Metal detritus can pose a safety hazard for work crews from the Buildings and Grounds Department.
Most BQs on island are one-room studio living spaces, and furnishings can go a long way to creating a sense of home. However, due to funding constraints, BQ residents are not eligible to access new padded and hardwood furniture options purchased with Army Family Housing funds.
“We know the AFH furniture isn’t for us,” said BQ resident Angela Prater, adding that her attempts to purchase furniture through the AAFES special order catalog have been unsuccessful. “It’s hard to get furniture out here.”
Garrison acquisition of AFH furniture items does not represent a zero-sum game for BQ residents. An ongoing search for available funding continues, and Hill acknowledges the situation.
“We have had a couple of discussions with Amentum-DI,” he said. “We are tracking mattresses and furniture for BQs. It’s another one of those rack-and-stack priorities for base support for lifecycle replace. I know it’s all beyond lifecycle.”
Pugsley announced that the garrison has just launched its full annual work plan, detailing critical tasks for every major department, and that BQ-related issues will have a high place in the prioritization of tasks.
“It will probably be piecemeal over a year or two. Based on what you’re telling me right now, it will be a vast improvement,” Pugsley said.
“All I’d ask you to do as a team and community is to try to encourage people to follow the rules and be good neighbors,” said Pugsley.
While the community should self-police, he emphasized that even though change takes time, no one should ever put themselves at risk in a potentially volatile situation.
“If they don’t listen, report them,” he said. “We need a cultural change in some of the elements within the common areas of the BQs. It will take a lot of pressure. I can’t just tell them once, and the problem is solved. It’s got to be consistent pressure over time to make it very difficult for people who do not conform to expectations.”
Acting Kwajalein Police Department Chief Charles Goodson encouraged those experiencing difficulties to call the police station (5-4445) to report concerns.
Law enforcement officials will respond to the call after it is received. Goodson also said that BQ residents can expect to see an increased community patrol presence.
A follow-up question addressed excess alcohol consumption and regulations on public intoxication anywhere outdoors—including your patio.
Pugsley acknowledged that while the sale of alcohol is ongoing, there is a current examination of price points as a potential deterrent for overconsumption at MWR points of sale.
“Believe it or not, the best way to change the culture is people,” he said. “People are the way to change. My team will do its best. You can do your best to support. Be responsible examples.”
In closing, Pugsley thanked those in attendance. He encouraged BQ residents to voice their questions on the Commander’s Hotline (5-1098) and to make use of the open-door policy for meeting with either he or Ortega.
“The fact that you’re here tells me that you care enough about the community,” Pugsley said. “Hopefully you’ll take back what you hear to the rest of your peers and work with us and the garrison team to develop an overall better community for everyone. One thing I promise is I will try to provide good, consistent feedback to you all.”