Ft. Hunter Liggett colonel talks on sustaining community relations in COVID-19 pandemic
–By Amy Phillips, Fort Hunter Liggett Public Affairs Office
Sustaining strong bonds between military and civilian leaders is very important to Col. Charles Bell, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett/Parks Reserve Forces Training Area Commander. Bell hosts quarterly Community Relations Working Group meetings with leaders from state to city level, FHL, Camp Roberts and Presidio of Monterey.
During the December 10, 2020, meeting, military leaders briefed King City Mayor Mike LeBarre, San Miguel General Manager Rob Roberson and Paso Robles Community Development Director Warren Frace on their COVID-19 posture and protocols. They also discussed issues such as coordination with local airports to support potential mass civil support operations, the transportation of training units from airports to installations, and affordable housing. More than a dozen leaders participated and the robust conversations generated interest in continuing the dialogue for potential Intergovernmental Support Agreements (IGSAs) or mutual aid agreements.
The garrison’s senior commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Rosende, 63rd Readiness Division Commanding General, emphasized the importance of continued community relations. “We know as Citizen Warriors that we can’t do it alone, and meetings like this strengthen the alliance with the civilian community,” said Rosende. He also noted the substantial economic impact the military brings to California, and urged civilian leaders to keep that in mind during their planning and programming efforts.
Bell said the garrison’s COVID-19 (C19) protocols have been successful in keeping cases low. He also highlighted the garrison’s modernization projects, improved energy infrastructure, and the increased training load even amid the pandemic. He mentioned opportunities for IGSAs for transporting military from area airports to post, emergency management and energy resiliency.
Brig. Gen. Michael Leeney, speaking for California National Guard, is also interested in further emergency management discussions with cities for potential civil support activities.
Maj. Jose Yrigollen, the Officer in Charge at the TASS Training Center (TTC) said many installations stopped training due high C19 cases, and the TTC hosted much of that training. The increased training also is also a credit to the garrison commander and the 84th Training Command, 102nd Training Division’s effort to establish an Engineering Center of Excellence. Several inaugural engineer courses have been established this year, with more to come.
Yrigollen stated the TTC success in not having any C19 cases is due to their stringent adherence to safety protocols, partnering with the garrison, and being the first to establish ‘COVID Teams’ that monitored troop activities and help sanitize facilities. LeBarre asked if their protocols could be transferred to colleges, and would like to pursue additional discussions to include school superintendents and colleges.
Bell also mentioned that FHL provides housing to the US Army Signal Activity (USASA) Soldiers stationed at Camp Roberts but suggested that Paso Robles and San Miguel were better options due to proximity. Brig. Gen. Patricia Wallace, commanding general of the 91st Training Division, stated the need for affordable housing. “Communities are the foundation to our Soldiers and their families,” said Wallace. Paso Robles, King City and San Miguel officials provided information on their housing developments and their willingness to establish working groups to discuss the issue.
Col. Dennis Keener, representing Camp Roberts, outlined the existing partnership with FHL to coordinate large scale Army Reserve and National Guard training exercises, and supporting them with recycling services. Keener is interested in pursuing civil support capabilities with surrounding communities, such as a military hub at the Paso Robles airport.
LeBarre noted King City is conducting an airport expansion plan and would be open to include military requirements. Frace also indicated interest to support the military.
The Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Mark Benton, members of the California Energy Commission, the Governor’s Military Council and Office of Planning and Research, and the Monterey Military & Veterans Affairs Office provided information on how they support the military, initiatives they are working on and brought up questions throughout the meeting.
Retired Major General Eldon Regua, with the Governor’s Military Council, applauded FHL for its Army resiliency award and efforts to eradicate the yellow star thistle, an invasive non-native plant that is a hazard to military training. Kyle Smith with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research said his office is developing a mapping tool for compatible land use and emissions, and published a report on DoD economic impact that the military would find useful.
“I look forward to working together to build strong partnerships,” said Bell, at the meeting’s conclusion.