Army records management is getting rehabbed

Story and photo by Mary Ann Davis
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Installation Management Command Directorate

James Francis, chief of U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Publications and Records Management Center of Excellence, shows the 38,750-square-foot warehouse, housing 26,976 boxes or records for more than 900 customer accounts within the Rheinland-Pfalz region. Francis and his seven-person team will help bring the garrison records management program into the 21st century.

Gone are the days of the dusty file cabinets crammed with yellowing papers, manila folders and disposition cards. Today’s Army records management is going digital, and the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Publications and Records Management Center of Excellence is working hard to make that happen.

Paper is the way of the past, said James Francis, P&RCOE chief, and it’s time to move records management into the 21st century.

“The way of the future is electronic records, and one thing I’m working on is getting all the records that you would normally store in our warehouse and make them electronic, for two reasons: to reduce the amount of storage space and to make maintaining them easier,” Francis said.

Currently, many units still do things the traditional way — printing paperwork and storing it in a file cabinet. If the files need to be kept for six years or more, eventually they’re boxed up and stored at the records management warehouse on Panzer Kaserne, where Francis works. Today, this warehouse is home to almost 27,000 square feet of file boxes. This is something Francis aims to change with his four-step plan.

“First, my team will identify everyone in every position within the garrison. Next, every office will have to appoint a records manager to oversee the unit program and a records coordinator who will maintain or destroy records according to Army regulations,” said Francis, who worked in the information management career field in the Air Force for eight years. “Then, we will begin offering training to records managers and coordinators so they can learn their roles and responsibilities. Lastly, I will visit each section to inspect their current plans.”

Francis said he will give units an idea of where their records management program is and where it needs to be. Even if units don’t have a records plan to inspect, he will help them build a plan from the ground up using the Army Records Information Management system, teach coordinators how to label records and figure out the records’ disposition — what to keep or destroy.

“Many people want to do the right thing and keep records, they just don’t know what to keep and for how long. So they keep everything,” said Francis, a native of San Francisco. “What people need to know is just because they are not a records manager or coordinator, you still have a responsibility to maintain unit records. It’s federal law.”

Not only does Francis and his seven-person team maintain records at the warehouse, they also supply Army publications, certificates, decorations and medals cardstock to all the Army units within the Rheinland-Pfalz region and downrange as well. They also store ration cards and traffic tickets that are issued to all military branches within the RP area and serve as the liaison between the Department of the Army headquarters and the Army Publishing Directorate.

Over the years, the warehouse housed some interesting memorabilia, to include Army discharge paperwork for Audie Murphy, Elvis Presley and Clark Gable. In fact, Gable’s paperwork was signed by Capt. Ronald Regan who later became the 40th U.S. president.

“Records provide us a history of where we’ve been and what we’ve done to get where we are. The work is tedious, time-consuming and very cut-and-dry with no room for error,” Francis explained. “But I got blessed with the best records management team in the Army.”

Andreas Kuhn, records management technician with the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Publications and Records Management Center of Excellence, shreds documents identified for destruction using an industrial shredder. Kuhn is a member of a seven-person records management team, maintaining records in a 38,750-square-foot warehouse on Panzer Kaserne, Kaiserslautern.

The team has to be on top of filing information in the right place in the warehouse and destroying the correct files to ensure they follow federal and Army regulations, he said.

“Attention to detail is the key to us winning in this job. If we write down the wrong year on a destruction form for information that may not have been eligible for destruction and it is destroyed, we violated U.S. federal laws by destroying records earlier than they should have been,” Francis explained. “We have a federal code of regulation, presidential memorandums, Department of Defense and the U.S. National Archives providing us regulations and guidance.”

In addition to records management, Francis and Juergen Schenk manage the Freedom of Information Act requests for the garrison.

“When we receive a request for information, we have to talk to several different people within the garrison and ask for particular records pertaining to the subject,” Francis said. “Records management and FOIA go hand in hand, because how can I answer a FOIA or congressional complaint without good records management?”

When Schenk receives FOIA requests, he does his best to track down the information for the requester.

“For example, if a customer contacts me to request a military police report (and) if the customer can’t provide the report number, I have to contact the Directorate of Emergency Services to number and verify if the report is finalized so I can request it,” said Schenk, who has worked for the Department of the Army for 37 years and began working in the warehouse in April 2013. “Then I provide paperwork for the client to fill out and request a FOIA case number. Once I receive the information from DES, I redact all third-party information, send it to legal to review. When it’s approved, I provide it to the requester and close the case.”

P&RCOE ensures people’s informational needs are met in the Rheinland-Pfalz, whether it’s providing forms, storing records or creating new records plans, Francis said.

“We need to bring people and programs into the 21st century, but we can’t do that unless we have good records management,” he said. “I love to teach, and I love to help. If people need help with their records plans, I’m an email or phone call away. This is my mission.”

Andreas Kuhn, records management technician at the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Publications and Records Management Center of Excellence, uses a forklift to carry requested files. P&RMCE is a climate-controlled warehouse, storing Army records that must be maintained for six years or longer.