From flowers to sinks, Army examines itself at Fort Meade symposium

Soldiers, area leaders get to sound off about base's qualify of life

March 15, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The binder was thick with color-coded queries: Why can't the men wear earrings? When will the pregnant women get military-issue winter coats? And what about planting some flowers and getting rid of those mice?

So it goes at the Fort George G. Meade Community Symposium, a three-day event that ends tomorrow. The yearly event, a component of the Army's Family Action Plan, occurs at bases nationwide and gives soldiers, their spouses and community leaders a chance to confront the powers-that-be about quality-of-life issues.

"We're looking at ourselves," said Richard Lane, Fort Meade's command information officer. "We're examining our own system and seeing how we can make it better."

The event is planned months in advance, with designated representatives surveying the community on pertinent issues, then assembling each color-coded concern into a binder. More than 140 issues were introduced at this year's symposium.

The issues were divided into six categories, and working groups discussed each category. The groups will prioritize the three most important issues in each category. Tomorrow, the entire symposium - about 200 people who registered - will pick the five main issues, and those will move up through the chain of command to seek resolution.

Lane said Army personnel monitor the concerns and address them quickly if the issues can be handled at the base level. If a concern transcends the authority of Fort Meade officials, a resolution can take longer.

For example, some soldiers said the base's homes had poor temperature controls, inadequate outlets and spotty hot water.

The Army, however, is not planning to invest in costly repairs because the homes will soon be demolished. Under the Residential Communities Initiative, a Pentagon program to eradicate substandard housing nationwide, a developer will demolish more than 2,600 units on Fort Meade and replace them with single-family homes. MC Partners LLC will begin construction in the spring of 2002.

Nevertheless, many in the housing group introduced issues that could be handled locally. One resident complained of a mice infestation - and the suggestion was to seal open containers. A few asked Army Department of Public Works officials if they could have double sinks in their homes. Others wanted more flowers planted at their homes.

Char Lambert, who lives on base with her husband, said one of her biggest concerns was the substandard housing for lower enlisted men who can't afford to live off base. "It's really scary housing, it's really sad," she said.

Lambert said she attended the symposium to see what other issues came up.

"I want to do something positive," she said. "The more people who get involved, the more positive things that will happen."

Former County Councilman Bert Rice, a retired colonel who has been involved with the symposium for several years, spent most of his morning yesterday discussing why men weren't allowed to wear earrings. As part of the force support group, he also planned to address the lack of military-issue coats for pregnant soldiers.

Rice considers the symposium an effective way to resolve issues.

"It gives the young people a chance to vent," he said.

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