Fort Hood saw many new beginnings in 2019, all with one goal in mind – to make the Great Place even greater.
Fort Hood welcomed a new commander and command sergeant major in 2019.
The year kicked off with Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex taking over as the new senior enlisted advisor of III Corps and Fort Hood. Hendrex, a 29-year career Soldier who previously served as the Third Infantry Division senior enlisted advisor at Fort Stewart, said his goals were focused on standardization and enforcement. Above all, Hendrex said his job was to ensure the deployability of the troops within III Corps.
“Readiness – from physical fitness training to preparedness that goes into being able to do what we’re designed to do. We’re designed for the away game, so you have to be prepared to deploy and you have to be prepared to deploy today.”
III Corps welcomed Lt. Gen. Pat White to the Great Place in June. The new III Corps and Fort Hood commander previously served as the director of operations at U.S. Army European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. He said at the time that he looked forward to leading the Phantom Corps and building relationships with the entire Central Texas community.
“I’ve stood on the shoulders of many and I will continue to allow my shoulders to be stood on. I am committed to giving this corps the leadership it requires and the privilege of taking the reins of this formation,” White said. “I look forward to serving shoulder to shoulder with each of you as we write the next chapter in this Phantom Corps and the Great Place.”
III Corps deploys
With its new leadership firmly in place, III Corps deployed in September, with White assuming command of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
White said III Corps’ primary mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS. He said the terrorist organization remains persistent, so the corps will be providing support for the Iraqi and Syrian forces, who are attempting to keep the insurgency at bay.
“The ceremony is not so much about change, but about continuity and leadership. Despite the leadership changes, the campaign moves on without pause, and that is by design,” explained Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, who presided over the transfer of authority ceremony in Baghdad.
During the past year, the coalition focused on enhancing the capabilities and capacities of the Iraqi Security Forces, training almost 60,000 Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Security Forces. Overall, since 2015, the Coalition has trained more than 210,000 ISF and KSF personnel, and have trained more than 4,000 ISF instructors.
Officials take action
Officials took action after hearing from the Fort Hood community during a command-directed town hall at Howze Auditorium in February. In a Feb. 15 memorandum from the Department of the Army, all Army installations were mandated to monitor military housing conditions. The memorandum was written following a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Feb. 13 about the living conditions within privatized military housing.
“We’re all on the same team. If you’re sitting in this auditorium, you’re on my team and I’m on your team. Period. We’re all shooting for the same thing here – take care of our Soldiers, civilians and family members,” White said during a town hall in June.
Highlighted among the issues resolved were a published policy by Lendlease Incorporated, the contract operator of Fort Hood Family Housing, on displaced family compensation; installation of keyless deadbolt locks; and allowing five business days for new residents to complete their move-in inspection sheet. Soldiers in pay grades E-5 and below are now assisted in the process by Community Life Noncommissioned Officers.
Col. Jason Wesbrock, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, said in November that since February, Lendlease has added 26 new employees to facilitate response time for maintenance work orders and conducted customer service training for their staff.
Among issues still being worked on, Wesbrock said a final post-wide policy on handling mold remediation cases is being coordinated with the CRDAMC and should be completed soon, while replacement window screens have been installed in 680 homes thus far in an ongoing effort to improve safety measures in on-post homes.
Fort Hood is now hosting quarterly town halls to address any further concerns.
Pence visits installation
Vice President Mike Pence toured the Great Place in October, with a focus on veteran benefits and equipment upgrades.
More than 1,500 Soldiers gave a big, Texas-sized welcome to the vice president, who spoke to the troops inside a hanger on Hood Army Airfield.
“Thank you for your service. I say that on behalf of a grateful nation,” Pence said. “We all know that with service comes sacrifice. Wherever you are called to serve, wherever you are deployed, I promise you, you will carry with you the strength and pride of this nation. You will carry with you the prayers of millions of American citizens.”
Revealing he is the son of a Korean War veteran and proud father of a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, Pence told the troops that they are the best America has to offer, saying he is more grateful for their service than they will ever know. He also took the opportunity to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the families of troops, especially during deployments.
Bldg. 36000, the former Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, was reimagined as a place providing consolidated services to Soldiers and their families, a one-stop-shop that would make Fort Hood’s delivery of service more efficient. The Shoemaker Center, named in honor of the late Gen. Robert M. Shoemaker, former III Corps and Fort Hood commander, is a building dedicated to serving others and will carry Shoemaker’s name and legacy.
The Shoemaker Center had been in the renovation process for two years and housed 19 different organizations during its grand opening in January. Some of the larger organizations within the building include Army Community Service and Child & Youth Services.
Tuke Shoemaker, Shoemaker’s wife of nearly 70 years, attended the dedication ceremony, which included the unveiling of the Gen. Robert M. Shoemaker plaque, which sits at the entrance of the building.
Garryowen legend honored
The CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School was unveiled in August in front of Fort Hood officials, the air assault school’s “black hat” instructors, along with Plumley’s daughter, Debbie Funkhouser, and her husband, Darrell.
A highly-decorated Soldier, Plumley served in three wars over the course of his 33-year Army career. While serving in the 1st Airmobile Division, now called 1st Cavalry Division, the airborne combat infantryman helped create what is now known as air assault.
“He was basically testing the concept,” Command Sgt. Maj. James Light, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division’s senior enlisted advisor, said. “Can you put Soldiers in helicopters and assault into combat?”
While Plumley was feared and revered by all who served with him, he became known to a whole new generation of people with the 2002 release of “We Were Soldiers,” a war epic detailing the Battle of la Drang. The film was based on the book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” written by retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and war correspondent Joseph Galloway.
Capt. Stephen Moreno, commander of the CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School, said he hopes every instructor who enters CSM Basil L. Plumley Air Assault School will look up to Plumley and strive to emulate his example.
Looking toward 2020
The Great Place will welcome home the Phantom Corps this year, as well as several other units who are currently deployed throughout the world. There will be laughter, there will be tears and there will be 366 days of new beginnings.