Naval Submarine Base (NSB) New London (NLON) in Groton, Connecticut, was designated the “Navy’s first submarine base” in 1915, and became home to the first nuclear-powered submarine in 1954. Almost every submariner in the Navy will be stationed here at some point for training.
NSB NLON supports more than 1,500 PPV Family Housing (FH) units on some 530 acres (250 additional units at Mitchel Complex, East Meadow, New York). Unaccompanied Housing (UH) has eight buildings, 997 permanent party rooms, and 1,892 beds. UH is government-owned and Navy managed.
Installation Program Director, Donna Wilson has more than 18 years of experience with housing on location. She manages the New London staff: Raylene Adams, Veronica Garey, Bob Welch, Billie Hunter, Flora Karangalan, Donna Fritch, Chuck Tweedy, and Mike Pepin, who bring from one to 30 years of experience to help customers make an informed decision on their housing choice. The NLON housing team is invaluable due to their continued passion to help service members and their families locate housing. They do this through extensive knowledge of the surrounding towns, their dedication to finding the best local rentals, and their devotion to helping military members and their families find a place to call home.
“The NLON housing team takes great pride in being a part of the Navy Family,” said Wilson.
A source from CNIC HQ described the NLON housing office as a model for customer services, saying it “… offers robust departure services, has standardized processes in place for virtually
everything, does full and regular inspections on not just RPP (Rental Partnership Program) but also community listings, and is a super-user of enterprise Military Housing (eMH) and has reports for everything.”
Wilson and some of her staff were interviewed in order to discover the driving force behind the current operational state of having a process or procedure in place for everything they do. The chief reason was solidly identified as Wilson’s refusal to have a “single-point failure.” For the team, that means business doesn’t come to a halt because a specific staff member is unavailable. Enabled by training and constantly updated SOPs, another member of the staff is always able to step into a function, and the mission carries on. SOPs cover everything from a referral to PPV to signing on an RPP. Additionally, a checklist is used by staff to ensure that consistent information is given to the customer. Because notes are taken and saved during each visit, a return visit by the same customer can be continued with a different staff member without having to revisit previous topics, unless necessary.
Another factor contributing to the NLON housing team’s successful operating style is how it views the inevitable “change.” Rather than dreading or avoiding it, this team adapts by seeing it as a challenge. SOPs are constantly being updated as things change and “best practices” are redefined. During the weekly staff meetings, the entire team looks at ways to simplify processes, remove redundancies, and test new ideas to see if they’ll work. With a nod to the bestselling book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, MD, Wilson admits, “I move their cheese a lot!” A staff member describes it another way: “It’s a breathing animal and you really have to go with the flow. You really have to dissect it (processes) and the education that we do in the office. We all take a look at processes continually because it is such a moving target.”
The ability to welcome change came in handy when family housing privatized at NSB NLON in 2004, with Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC) as the private partner. Michelle Schukoske has been there since the start: “What I value most as the senior community manager here at NSB New London is the opportunity to serve those who serve our country. I can speak for the entire Balfour Beatty Communities team when I say we will do whatever it takes to make sure our residents truly feel at home and fully enjoy their time in New London. It is very rewarding to me to play a part in that mission and work with such a dedicated team. Every day brings something different; with new opportunities and challenges to
tackle, there is rarely a dull moment! Looking back over my time here, many of the highlights surround our fabulous LifeWorks program. LifeWorks is our resident relations program that is comprised of a wide variety of activities and events that we coordinate to encourage residents of all ages to get out of their homes and into the community for a little fun and camaraderie. What’s not to like about being able to plan and host parties for our whole community to enjoy?”
The staff of NSB NLON Housing Service Center (HSC) personifies the definition of teamwork—“cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause.” NSB New London family housing residents benefit from being served by teams that love their jobs, as seen in Schukoske’s statement
for the BBC and those of the HSC as seen in the following remarks:
Chuck Tweedy: “Gives me an opportunity to keep serving my country by taking care of the service members and their families with their housing needs. Having been in their shoes myself, I know how stressful moving and locating housing can be.”
Raylene Adams: “I love seeing the joy on their faces when we can help them with PPV or community housing.”
Bob Welch: “I love my job because it provides me with an opportunity to make a continued contribution to the overall mission of SUBASE, while giving back to our military community. When a young man or woman leaves on a deployment knowing that their loved ones are safe and comfortable, within a well-run and maintained housing area, they then can devote themselves to any tasking asked of them. This, in turn, provides our great nation with the best fighting force in the world, and for that I am truly thankful.”
Veronica Garey: “We have a great sense of pride in our team. We have all been together for many years. I wouldn’t change anything about any of them.”
The HSC’s most recent initiative promotes its liaison and mediation services available to residents in PPV housing. This initiative ensures each new resident receives a welcome letter in the mail letting them know they have a Navy advocate available to them if issues arise during their stay in PPV Housing. Whether it’s creating a new eMH report, building relationships with landlords in the RPP program who love having military members as tenants, or briefing the chief of the boat so they better understand the services offered, the NSB NLON housing team is working together to make it a success. At the same time, the “handwriting is on the wall,” and it’s certain this team is already revising, developing, and preparing for the future.
This article was originally published in Defense Communities – Nov/Dec 2014.