Along the scenic St. Johns River lies Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, the birthplace of the Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron Blue Angels and now home to the new P-8 Trident aircraft. The P-8 is used for anti-submarine warfare, antisurface warfare, and shipping interdiction, along with an electronic signals intelligence. In addition, the SH-60R Seahawk helicopter also is a major composite of NAS Jacksonville with its anti-submarine warfare and combat search and rescue capabilities.
There is a rich military history of NAS Jacksonville that began in 1907 when the site was selected for state militia training. Aviation history started on Dec. 4, 1916, when New York millionaire Earl Dodge opened an aviation training camp on the site of what is today the Commanding Officer’s building.
On Oct. 15, 1940, NAS Jacksonville was commissioned, with Captain Charles P. Mason selected as the first Commanding Officer and with Admiral John Towers in attendance. NAS Jacksonville was established as a primary flight training base and flight training commenced on Jan. 2, 1941. Today, NAS Jacksonville is at the forefront of the global war on terror.
NAS Jacksonville is one of the largest employers in northeast Florida that contributes to the growth, prosperity, and annual economic impact valued in excess of $2 billion.
The Housing Service Center (HSC) is led by Mike Herbert, who has more than 35 years of experience in military and college housing. He manages a staff of more than 30 personnel, comprised of Eston Bowen; Beverly Nix; Cynthia Johnson; Valarie Brown; Vic Deleon; Rosalind Holmes; Stephanie Hart; Stanley Lomax; and other supporting cast members, including Sailors, maintenance, and custodial personnel. The staff is one of the finest mixes of personnel assembled to fulfill the needs of sailors—both married and single—and their families. Herbert believes that he and his staff should serve sailors with the assets available, treat customers with the utmost respect and dignity, and build relationships that bind the ties of professionalism as a Navy team. NAS Jacksonville and its military members have enjoyed the success of the privatization of family housing.
As a result of privatization, all housing for enlisted members was demolished and rebuilt. The older homes were originally constructed in 1974, consisting of cinderblock exteriors and terrazzo flooring. As you can imagine, homes of this age did not provide all the contemporary conveniences or energy efficiencies. The conundrum of obsolete housing was resolved through a partnership with Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC)—those homes were simply demolished. To that end, military members stationed within the tri-base area of Jacksonville are now afforded the opportunity to reside in one of the 264 new homes that meet and often exceed the needs of modern military families. In addition to enlisted personnel receiving new housing, an added outcome of privatization was that officer housing located in the historic district of NAS Jacksonville underwent renovation that gave those homes a prevailing touch as well. BBC is responsible for the construction, renovation, maintenance, and day-to-day management of the housing. “A partnership is an arrangement in which parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests … And that’s exactly what we do!” said Diana Hientz, the community manager for BBC. “In my mind, two heads are better than one. Although Mike Herbert and I see each other almost daily, we do set aside a day to meet weekly to discuss any concerns or issues within the BBC Community. This includes decision making on every level. We provide moral support to each other. Each of us benefits from the combination of complementary skills and knowledge that we have.”
The NAS Jacksonville HSC stands ready to assist the more than 8,800 active-duty service members stationed at the installation. With such a diverse customer base, HSC Jacksonville is fortunate to be uniquely staffed with prior military members and military spouses to assist and partner with personnel assigned to NAS Jacksonville. This varied mixture of housing professionals results in exceptional customer service. There is a greater understanding shared between the HSC staff and military members regarding all of the stresses associated with permanent change of station (transfers), deployment, the shipment of household goods, and especially the importance of finding a home at a new duty station. With a limited quantity of newly constructed or renovated housing as a result of the privatization program, most personnel desiring this type of housing are placed on the housing waitlist. In order to relieve our military members of the anxieties of military moves and securing housing relatively quickly after their arrival, HSC Jacksonville manages a very active Rental Partnership Program (RPP).
The RPP program includes 94 participating apartment complexes and more than 300 homes, townhomes, and condos. The program is second to none in the amount of service members that are handled each year. More than 1,200 service members are currently taking advantage of this program, which affords reduced or waived security deposits and discounted rental rates.
All HSC staff members take an enormous amount of pride to ensure service members are well equipped with pertinent information regarding their housing needs and entitlements. In addition to providing service members information on housing, they also are given the points of contact for schools, history, and attractions in the local area; crime research databases; utility cost; and state programs and benefits for active-duty members and families—all in an effort to make the transfer to NAS Jacksonville less stressful for service members and their families. Cynthia Johnson, the longest tenured staff member, summed it up this way: “We are here so that the service members can go out and fulfill their duty to fight for our country and not worry about their family or somewhere to live when they return. I love what we do for all our service members.”
During FY14, the HSC documented more than 6,200 individual customer contacts at its office for various housing needs, and ensured all members were well informed of their benefits, housing options, and entitlements while stationed here at NAS Jacksonville.
The Unaccompanied Housing (UH) at NAS Jacksonville also falls under the supervision of HSC Jacksonville and is supervised by Beverly Nix. The UH complex is comprised of 838 rooms and can house 1,640 active-duty military members.
Nix directs a team of civilians and military, and believes she and her staff are leaders in customer care—simply because they are able to make sailors feel at home during their time in UH. As a means to provide quality customer service, a weekly indoctrination program was established for all new sailors checking in to NAS Jacksonville. The program ensures that information concerning management expectations, in terms of resident safety along with comfort and living conditions, is delivered to sailors. It also is a tool that is used to establish a cohesive relationship with UH staff and their customers during their stay in UH. This method creates a family-like atmosphere, which, coupled with great response rates from residents, made it possible for UH Jacksonville to receive the CEL & Associates “A List Crystal Award” in recognition of Customer Service Excellence for five consecutive years.
A major reason for the success of the UH program is the participation of the various commands located aboard NAS Jacksonville. UH depends on the senior enlisted leadership of each command to assist in maintaining cleanliness and sanitation standards of living quarters occupied by their service members.
Excellence in customer service is our commitment, so, in conjunction with the base galley, our service members that are on Rations In Kind are able to enjoy a nutritious “Grab ‘N’ Go” breakfast, Monday through Friday, in the main lobby of UH. This innovative program was initiated to accommodate those service members that are completing physical training, who are often pressed for time in the morning. As an added convenience to residents, there are lounges equipped with TVs, video games, WiFi, Internet, and vending machines. In FY14, a renovation project began to upgrade the exhaust and fresh air-flow system in 251 rooms in order to provide a continued healthy environment for all residents.
NAS Jacksonville has a proud history and continues to strive for a bright future.
This article was originally printed in Defense Communities Magazine.