Fort Belvoir manpower shortages disrupt gate schedules, force tough decisions

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Fort Belvoir's Walker Gate has been sporadically open due to manpower shortages since Oct. 31.

Since Oct. 31, Fort Belvoir’s Walker Gate – which reopened last February following the replacement of Dogue Creek Bridge – has experienced nearly daily schedule changes due to staffing challenges.

The shortage of guards available to man the gate is not unique to the local garrison; it’s a problem throughout the National Capital Region (NCR). During a Nov. 18 Fort Belvoir Town Hall and Community Update, Col. Joseph Messina told attendees that the staffing issue is one of the most significant challenges he’s faced since assuming the role of garrison commander this past August.

“It’s not a money issue. This is a human manning issue,” he said.

While some new guards are currently being onboarded, recruitment remains a challenge. Guard positions have to be filled by Department of the Army civilians, and many other agencies are competing for the same workers. As a result, Messina is having to weigh some difficult options, like temporarily or permanently closing Kingman Gate, located off the Fairfax County Parkway.

Guards currently manning the installation’s access control points are often working 16-hour days, according to Boyd Hodges, Fort Belvoir’s director of emergency services.

“There’s quite a bit of fatigue right now,” he said.

All of this means that local commuters may notice more traffic and back-ups around the gates. To alleviate wait times, Messina and Command Sergeant Major Daniel Hopkins recently advocated for the reinstatement of the garrison’s Trusted Traveler Program. Starting Monday, Nov. 21, drivers with a Department of Defense identification card will be able to vouch for other passengers in their vehicles.

“We’re probably one of the only installations in the NCR right now to take this posture,” said Hodges.

He also encouraged installation visitors to apply online for an expedited visitor’s pass.

Staffing challenges have also affected other facilities at Fort Belvoir, but some indoor recreational opportunities are becoming available again. While the garrison’s bowling center reopened Nov. 17 with limited hours until it can hire more staff, the movie theater will remain closed for financial reasons, according to Alex Mamaril, general manager of Fort Belvoir’s Exchange.

Additionally, the Fort Belvoir Officers Club will remain closed to the general public for the foreseeable future as it prepares to undergo renovation, said George Dixon, director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Work will be performed on the facility’s kitchens, locker areas and bathrooms, he said.

“MWR is really excited to be opening back up,” said Dixon. “We have more going on in the next four weeks than we’ve had in the previous 30 months, but we need the community’s support to keep these things open.”

Information on upcoming events at Fort Belvoir, including the Dec. 3 Winterfest and Tree Lighting Ceremony, can be found on the MWR website.

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