Leesville, Louisiana is a small, rustic town engulfed by a variety of pine and oak trees. This quiet little hamlet prides itself as being a place that offers a smile, a handshake and strong sense of community. It is a place where life has not changed much since the 1970s.
Just outside of town lies a military installation with a unique mission, emerging from the forest of oaks and evergreens. Welcome to Fort Polk, the home of the Joint Readiness Training Center!
“Fort Polk is the premiere light infantry training center in the world. The light infantry units come here before deploying overseas,” said Fort Polk resident engineer, Steve Sherrill.
The installation is also home to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, the 519th Military Police Battalion, the 5th Aviation Battalion, 46th Engineer Battalion, and the Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group.
As the resident engineer, it is Sherrill’s responsibility to manage the various projects that support the mission and provide quality of life for Soldiers and family members.
“The Fort Polk construction program is very robust and complex, so we try to match our Corps personnel to their strengths when assigning responsibilities for its execution,” said Sherrill. “But the most important thing is to build and maintain relationships with our contractors, stakeholders, and other partners. It’s all about relationships.”
The resident office manages numerous renovations, maintenance, and new construction projects by maintaining positive working relationships with Fort Polk’s Directorate of Public Works, and according to Sherrill, this is vital to ensuring Fort Polk remains a premiere place to work, live and play.
“The DPW is our stakeholder, and they hire us to deliver quality projects to them. We do this because at the end of the day, it is the Soldier, the end user, that will benefit from what we deliver,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill and the Polk office are part of the Fort Worth District’s Eastern Area Office, which also oversees Corps projects at Barksdale Air Force Base, just outside of Shreveport, Louisiana and the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas.
“Our Fort Polk resident office maintains a program consisting of barracks construction and renovation, life support, support to the warfighter and disaster relief projects,” said Gary Westby, the engineer in charge of the Fort Worth District’s Eastern Area Office.
A major deliverable item is barracks for single and unaccompanied Soldiers. As one drives around the installation, various barrack complexes can be seen nestled up against natural wooded green space to provide a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.
“With our new barracks initiatives, we tried to make it more like a private home and incorporate many quality-of-life aspects into the buildings, said Sherrill.
The enlisted barracks designs have transformed over the years to align with the changing views on supporting the Soldier. During the World War II era they took on a squad bay style, then transitioned to the Volunteer Army or VOLAR barracks after Vietnam, where around six Soldiers shared a room and the entire unit shared shower and living spaces.
Today, the barracks focus changed to offer Soldiers more privacy, where a single Soldier has his own living space or where two Soldiers share common spaces such as living, dining and kitchen areas, but have private bedrooms.
“Some of the new buildings offer shared common areas but private sleeping areas like a two-bedroom apartment,” added Sherrill. “With this concept, you have a buddy to look after you, but still maintain some level of privacy.”
Over the past few years, a focus on energy efficiency was incorporated into the overall VOLAR renovation program on Fort Polk. These new VOLAR designs are required to meet LEED Silver requirements.
Recently, the team completed a $17 million dollar barracks renovation project. Sauer Inc. was awarded the contract in 2018 as a design-build project. It consisted of drainage improvements, increased energy efficiency, and engineering a vapor barrier. Additionally, the project converted existing two-bedroom areas to larger one-bedroom suites.
“These are state-of-the-art design solutions that will solve all current maintenance challenges caused by condensation, thus bringing the barracks up to current standards, and improving the quality of life for Soldiers while extending the life of the facility, said the Fort Worth District’s deputy chief of Engineering and Construction, Clay Morgan.
To complement initiatives established by privatized housing, where neighborhoods provide playgrounds and parks to keep family members entertained, the Fort Polk team has made major contributions to quality-of-life, or life support initiatives. Work included renovations to the installation’s Olympic-sized pool, upgrades to the locker room, and the addition of a waterslide.
Sherrill said they also refurbished a children’s splash pad at a separate location. Another quality-of-life upgrade that is underway is the overhaul of a teen youth center which will receive a new game room, computer lab and basketball court.
“I get an extreme sense of pride and satisfaction whenever we turn over a project to our stakeholder. We treat each project the same whether it’s a $30 million barracks or a $250 thousand maneuver trail,” added Sherrill.
Key to the overall Fort Polk military construction program is the support the team provides to the warfighter’s mission. In past years, the team repaired the old rail system so that military units can ship equipment from their home station to the training site. They also constructed ranges and life support areas for units going through training.
Sherrill also highlighted a few renovations to tactical equipment maintenance facilities that are in the works. Renovations include gutting buildings to replace electrical lines, HVAC systems, Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant, or POL systems, and vehicle exhaust and air compression systems.
“This is just the start,” he said. “We plan to ultimately renovate all of the maintenance facilities on the installation.”
The state of Louisiana and Fort Polk have been hit in recent years by natural disasters. As part of the recovery effort, the team has been allocated funding for storm damage repairs. According to Sherrill, his team is working on several contracts to do major repairs caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta which occurred in August and October of 2020.
“The majority of the repairs are to fix damaged roofs, and doors on many of the maintenance and other buildings. We are also repairing the steeple to the main post chapel,” said Sherrill.
Sherrill notes that managing the Fort Polk program is very exciting, but it does have its challenges. Therefore, teamwork and collaboration are very important. But what makes it all worthwhile for Team Polk is completing projects that will greatly benefit Soldiers, families and the Fort Polk community.
“We would not be successful without the combined efforts of the local teams and partners here at Fort Polk and the folks in our area and district offices. It takes a total team effort,” he said.
“These types of projects matter and make a difference in our Soldiers lives and are among the top priorities on this installation. This is where the rubber meets the road when we say Fort Polk is a quality-of-life installation. What we are doing here and within the Army to modernize our facilities and improve the quality of life for our Soldiers proves that,” said Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general.