Jack Surash, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, took a close look at energy, operations and housing in a visit to Fort Belvoir, Friday.

“I had a great time today, meeting with the Garrison commander and the command sergeant major, and we talked about the various important functions that the Garrison performs here. I heard about some real innovative things going on here on Fort Belvoir,” Surash said.

Surash is responsible for all matters related to Army installation policy and oversight, coordination of energy security and management program direction, and refinement of strategies and oversight for implementation of all programs and initiatives related to Energy Security and Sustainability within the Army. As the Army’s senior energy executive, Mr. Surash coordinates and integrates both installation and operational energy programs and strategies.

Much of his discussion with Garrison leadership and public works was on ways the installation could reduce energy consumption and even some ways those savings could be returned to Garrison operations. He urged leadership to keep an eye on designs for creating the most sustainable building possible using energy analysis and lifecycle cost estimates.

During a windshield tour of the post, Surash stopped at several villages, including Cedar Grove Village, to discuss the three sets of 3,000 sq. ft. duplexes that are under construction. He learned from Clark that the high occupancy rates on post are principally because Service members want neighbors with their shared experience. “Post housing is attractive for the community it offers,” said Alex Rhoads, a Clark executive, and he said resident polling also showed a strong desire to avoid the D.C. area commute.

Surash spent more than an hour listening to several village mayors, who have now teamed up with the Garrison Ombudsman to smooth communications between residents and Michaels, and provide follow-up on maintenance issues in homes and across the neighborhoods. Surash said the conversation was enlightening.

“If somebody came to my office in the Pentagon, and tried to describe what the mayors are doing, it would not have sunk in,” said Surash. “This is a voluntary program, and these are not all residences where things are going perfect; in fact, a couple of the mayors have had issues with their own houses. On a volunteer basis, these mayors and deputy mayors help their entire neighborhood to try to move things in the right direction, and it’s a wonderful thing. I truly appreciate what they’re doing. There’s a positive trend here because of the mayors.”

Col. Joshua SeGraves, Garrison commander, explained that Fort Belvoir’s program, with each village having a mayor for residents to reach out to, is still not the Army norm.

“We formalized the mayor program in July,” SeGraves said, adding, “This is not common for the Army.”

The Mayor Program is the only authorized group to represent the interests of the residents, and SeGraves said there has been slow, but steady progress achieved through caring volunteers in each village.

“Things have gotten better, because of (Ombudsman) Jennifer (Hudson), and the Mayor Program,” said SeGraves. “We still have problems, but it’s getting better for the residents of Fort Belvoir.”

That was an assessment that Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Purcell, George Washington mayor, agreed with. He said that the mayors initially were dealing with maintenance back-orders and repeated calls to resolve issues, but he’s noticed that as those get addressed, more of the issues in his neighborhood are now external.

“I see improvements continuing since the mayor program has begun,” Purcell said. “Infrastructure issues, such as roads, crosswalks, and traffic control in neighborhoods are more common. When I first came on as mayor, a lot of my attention was at the resident level, with work orders. The program has improved that, so (now my) issues are village-wide.”

Surash said the way forward in this military-private partnership is continued persistence.

“We have the entire chain of command engaged,” said Surash. “We also have the attention of the property companies, and we need to keep proper attention on this matter. Remember, this is a partnership. What we’re looking for, in my opinion, is a win-win outcome. When you’re in a partnership, that’s what you want. Hopefully, that can happen.”