Community Citizen Diversity Connection Communication Concept
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Military Extends Communications to the Community

Have you every wondered what’s happening behind the secured walls of a military base? Who lives there? Oftentimes, life on a military base can be very isolating from the neighboring community. It’s often difficult for service members to integrate themselves effectively with the surrounding community and vice versa. But that’s all changing. Thanks in large part to a former Air Force officer.

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Steven Zander, Director of the Department of Air Force’s Community Partnership Program, sat down with Christopher Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to discuss how the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has been working on integrating itself more into the communities they reside in through shared services and projects. For his work, Zander was named a finalist in the Management Excellence category for the Partnership of Public Service’s Service to America Medals-the Sammies.

The Community Partnership Program is the combined effort of both the USAF to work with the surrounding community in areas of commerce, services, and projects. As such, the premise is simple. Those stationed at a particular base tend to have close relations with their internal military community. However, as Miranda Ballentine, the Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, Environment and Energy, stated “It used to be that bases were mini-cities in terms of all the municipal services they provide,” the Partnership quoted. In other words, Zander and his team have simply helped further integrate the two sets of community members through the program.

The program now is supported in 51 different locations. During the process, Zander has picked up a few tricks and tips. He provided some pieces of insight and advice that can apply across agencies:

First, we must break down myths. One of the biggest hurdles Zander encountered was the need to break down myths surrounding what can and what cannot be done. He highlighted the impact open communication has had on making objectives and goals clear between local officials and the federal government. Zander recounted how members of his team and local government officials come “together and talk about ways to support each other.” The program will send a team quarterly to continue to provide the most up-to-date information so that it is clear how they can move forward. As a result, it breaks down the preconceived notion that “we can’t do it because of contract requirements,” said Zander.

Second, never decline an offer completely. Although there may be issues with budgets or the ability to conduct the proposed program at the moment, Zander said to approach a questionable, partnered project with the mindset: “Never say no…defer that one, and you can always come back to that one at a later date.” In other words, it may be a blessing in disguise. You may be able to conduct the proposed project with better resources and more efficiently at a later date.

Third, think long-term. We all know, but sometimes forget, that hard work pays off. It may take some time (maybe even a lot of time), but Zander told us that “the more complex [projects] are coming forward now and we anticipate even greater savings in the future.” Naturally, there will be complications that arise when attempting to set up a new system, but the potential and actual savings have proven worth the wait. The Partnership shared a success story from the Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina that partnered with the local community to develop a shared sports complex on the land owned by the Air Force. Not only will the facilities be available to both parties, but it is also estimated to bring in $900,000 in potential benefits overall.

Last, always be pro-active. Zander mentioned that he and his team “spend a lot of time just guiding the partners through the initiative.” What may seem like an unbreakable roadblock is just a matter of better communicating to make all parties more aware of the true extension of rules and regulations. Additionally, one success story can lead to many more. Zander emphasized that he could now “see how it breeds new ideas that are exported then across the Air Force.”

The work Zander and his team are conducting provides benefits that we all reap. Whether you live near a USAF base or not, the savings in the projects they are working on (or have completed) affects us all.

 

*Image courtesy of the Partnership for Public Service

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