Garrison “people strategy” focuses on Army’s number one priority

Bolstering civilian capabilities and developing high-caliber employees are two of the many facets of a new strategy at U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz that keeps Army people as the number one priority.

The Garrison People Strategy takes many of its cues from the broader Army People Strategy created in October 2019. Army People Strategy helps Soldiers and civilians better assist with readiness, modernization, and reform. The local strategy amplifies APS and focuses on bolstering civilian capabilities here to enhance garrison success. Part of the effort is refinement of current programs, but another comes out of necessity, according to one of the garrison’s senior leaders.

“Over the next four to five years, we’re going to lose quite a bit of our senior workforce,” said Dr. Kevin Griess, deputy to the garrison commander and the senior civilian on point for the implementation of the local strategy. “I was concerned about both the knowledge and experience that would be lost. I was also concerned that our civilian personnel system and making replacements isn’t compatible with a surge loss like that.”

In these file photos from 2020, civilian workers keep the garrison running before and during the Coronavirus crisis. USAG Rheinland-Pfalz civilians will have new opportunities for growth under the garrison’s new local people strategy, including education with potential college credit.

While the number of separations, retirements, and movements is a continually moving target, Griess said the number rests somewhere between 150-200 employees. Part of the exodus is due to the creation of the Rheinland-Pfalz garrison — the Army’s premier strategic readiness platform overseas, which was welded together from several other installations in 2013. The Army reassigned some employees who worked in Heidelberg, Mannheim and other German cities here. Now many of them have reached retirement age or are moving on to other opportunities.

“I became concerned about establishing an environment and organization that could adapt to that type of impact, both lost knowledge and lost people,” Griess said. “Everybody’s here to serve. Nobody is simply biding time. We leaders are judged by our actions, not our words. So, our first step is to develop a strategy, then ensure our people are the number one component of that strategy.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville reinforced Griess’ words during the 2019 Association of the United States Army conference.

“The Army is people. It’s our most important asset. It’s our most important weapon system. So, to me, people is our number one priority,” McConville said.

The structure & a task force

For its 31 sites in Germany, Romania and Bulgaria, the garrison employs more than 700 appropriated fund and local-national civilian employees, and about 500 nonappropriated fund workers.

As part of the local people strategy, three basic areas are set as guideposts in the local strategy: educate, train and credential. Those reinforce the pillars of the local strategy: acculturation, management and supervision, professional and technical skill, and workforce/leadership professional development.

From that emerges Task Force Five, a sort of Avengers-meets-Lean Six Sigma-meets The Office local cadre keenly focused on tactics and training. They are the ground-pounders creating instructional products, working to get training efforts certified by a local university (that’s done) and build a cadre of adjunct instructors to fulfill the strategy’s goals (that’s underway).

The ‘Five’ stands for five elements: learning, leading, serving, humanizing, and trusting. John O’Brien, chief of plans, analysis, and integration, said the ‘Five’ are at the heart of the effort. “They demonstrate what is valued to us and how we want to operate as a team.”

Directors/chiefs play a large role

The garrison’s directors and chiefs bear much of the weight for the strategy’s success. Michael Waschek, director of human resources, supervises 92 people. “It all starts with engagement. Every employee has to be engaged in the process, and they have to want to be a part of this,” Waschek said.

Every civilian employee contributes something and ensuring the right people for the right role matters, according to the Army People Strategy. To that end, Griess said there also has to be a paramount effort made to fill gaps and acquire local talent.

“I want to make this organization the employer of choice by first investing in who’s already in the organization to make the organization strong, and then talent will want to come to us. If you build a fantastic organization, they will come,” he said.

And while the strategy evolves (some of the efforts have been delayed because of the Coronavirus crisis), the group also wants to cultivate an Installation Management Center of Excellence.

“Change is occurring, and people will never want to go back to where it was,” Griess said.

What does success look like?

To succeed, Griess, O’Brien and team must meet the goals set atop the aforementioned five pillars. With a 24-month timeline to achieve a number of milestones, O’Brien knows there’s much to be done.

“We, as an organization, have the duty to ensure what we’re doing is bringing value and we’re constantly putting our fingers on the pulse to determine whether or not we are actually achieving those that have value,” he said.

Griess summarized success as a matter of desire for each employee. “Every single person wants to have an opportunity to succeed. We have an obligation as leadership to provide that opportunity,” he said.

Garrison Commander Jason T. Edwards said he believes the Garrison People Strategy is exactly what’s needed for an organization that continues to expand in scope, responsibility and size, with the recent garrison management acquisition of Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, and the Nova Selo Training Area, Bulgaria.

“As this evolves, our team will attack readiness, modernization and reform in ways no other garrison will, making the total team of Soldiers, civilians and family members – a powerful force in Installation Management Command, Army Materiel Command and Big Army,” Edwards said. “People are our most valuable resource and we must ensure they are trained, ready and we can create an environment where Soldiers and civilians can not only work, but excel. We want to promote initiative and allow our personnel to develop. This is all about being the number one place to work and live.”

In the end, getting the people piece right for the Army at USAG Rheinland-Pfalz and elsewhere helps win wars. During a September 2019 speech to the National Guard Association, McConville emphasized the point.

“Remember two things: winning matters and people are my number one priority because [we] serve to defend the nation and we send the United States Army somewhere we don’t go to participate. We don’t go to try hard. We go to win.”