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Lighting up a better relationship

Adam Brokaw, right, cautions traffic as Dale Einert, both with Liberty Military Housing, prepares to perform repairs to a nearby streetlight in the Merriweather community Feb. 10. Photo Credit: Pamela Sleezer, JBLM Public Affairs

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD  - Joint Base Lewis-McChord is shining a light, literally, on the power of communication and the importance of hearing the needs of its community members as crews continue to repair hundreds of broken streetlights throughout installation communities.

As of Feb. 8, more than 157 lights within nine housing areas have been repaired and are now operational. But the work continues as 11 more neighborhoods await crews to finish their repairs.

The streetlights within the 22 neighborhoods on JBLM fall under the responsibility of Liberty Military Housing. Danny Salgado, Regional Maintenance director for LMH, said the work was a daunting task for the crews to attack, and one that was far more intricate than simply changing a light bulb.

"Some were as simple as replacing the fixture itself," Salgado said. "But some of the streetlights had corroded wires or they were leaning because of foundation issues; those were the easy ones. Many others required troubleshooting the problem. In a lot of cases, we had an entire circuit, which consists of anywhere from five, 10 or even 15 lights, that were out, and we had to troubleshoot the whole circuit to find which ones were out and why."

Another major hurdle that began even before the work could start was finding a vendor capable performing the repairs. Salgado said LMH sought out someone who could not only fix the various models of streetlights, but who also had knowledge of the different bulbs and sources of power used across JBLM. They would also need to be able to continually service and maintain the lights.

"We had four vendors come on site to view a few of the streetlights, and in the end, we hired three of them," Salgado said.

Those three vendors are dedicated to the task, Salgado said. With supply issues and long backorders slowing down the progress, he said the vendors have all stocked their warehouses with the various parts needed to complete the job and have committed to keeping an overstock to stay ahead of future repairs.

Looking forward, Salgado said LMH has also hired a quality control team that will conduct monthly inspections of the lights across all neighborhoods.

"The goal is to make it so that no light goes out for longer than three weeks; so that it is caught every month in these inspections and addressed," he said.

The repair of the streetlights is tangible proof that a new Community Mayors program rolled out last year to increase the communication between garrison leadership and the JBLM community is working.

Introduced in March 2022, the mayoral program was created to better capture the needs of the community. Residents wishing to serve their community as mayor submitted applications, answering questions that attested to why they wished to serve, and garrison command leadership then made their selections from those applicants.

According to Anna Wilkerson, Hillside Community mayor, though the program is still new it is already showing signs of being a welcomed asset to her community members.

"I think that residents are still learning about their mayors and the mayor's role, and because of this a lot of residents are wary of reaching out," Wilkerson said. "However, the residents that do know and have reached out have expressed a lot of gratitude at having an advocate that listens, goes to bat for them, and can either offer them advice on their situation or can quickly get them information on what avenues will best suit their needs."

For many residents, their concerns centered around the inoperable streetlight situation and the safety issues that accompanied the situation.

Paul Butler, community mayor for the Olympic Grove neighborhood, said his community had been dealing with the broken streetlights for over two years.

The concerns across all communities peaked during the fall and winter months when, along with an increase in rain, daylight hours dwindle. Without streetlights, community members are forced to walk through their neighborhoods in shadows by early evening, and children must wait for and be dropped off from their school buses in darkness.

Ultimately, community members desired the safety and security streetlights offer, and their mayors carried that message to the appropriate channels. The initiative began to gain traction through regular monthly meetings with garrison leaders and LMH officials, and community mayors even went one step further by tying ribbons to inoperable streetlights to make them more identifiable to work crews.

Command Sgt. Maj. Waylon Petty, JBLM command sergeant major, said the streetlights initiative is a true illustration of the work that it takes to address an issue and correct it within the JBLM community.

"When a concern is brought up, there is work behind the scenes to see how we can address it," Petty said. "In this case, we were successful."

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