Col. Bill Galbraith has spent three years inside the gate at Fort Eustis, managing the affairs of a highly diverse Army base.
Outside the gate? He said that mattered, too.
Galbraith said he will carry fond memories of Newport News to his new assignment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where he will serve as deputy commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.
Galbraith had plenty to do at Fort Eustis, home to boats that serve as the "Army's Navy," a busy airfield and the headquarters for a four-star command sometimes called the Army's university, properly known as Training and Doctrine Command.
But the colonel also sought to build bridges between Eustis and the community.
Sometimes that involved an actual bridge.
Construction work on Fort Eustis Boulevard resulted in a new bridge over the CSX railroad tracks. Through that work and other opportunities, he came to appreciate Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey.
Galbraith said he considered himself a city manager of sorts, and sought to learn from Bourey.
"He and I formed a bond," he said.
Galbraith's official title is commander of the 733rd Mission Support Group at Joint Base Langley Eustis. The joint base merges some functions of Fort Eustis and Langley Air Force Base, although each installation retains its distinct identity. The job has required him to learn some Air Force language, and to teach some Army habits to airmen.
Galbraith can list various committees and organizations he's connected with during his three years. He's occasionally been called upon to represent Eustis at government meetings. Roughly 85 percent of the people who work at Fort Eustis live off the base, "so we are connected in that way to the community, also," he said. "High schools, businesses, churches — it's all important."
During his tenure, the city's Tech Center has grown into a hub, and he's seen other development as well.
"I've watched this place mature so much in three years," he said. "It's amazing."
Meanwhile, he stayed busy at his day job. Two years ago, the Army proposed reductions throughout the force, and Galbraith participated in a listening session with business and community leaders. He didn't have much to say, as supportive civilians did most of the talking.
"We had it at the Wylie Theater and it was packed," he said. "I think the sound waves got all the way up to the Pentagon."
It was feared Eustis could lose more than 4,000 positions. It ended up losing fewer than 100 positions.
Eustis has also continued much-needed housing renovations under his watch. The 128th Aviation Brigade, a little-publicized but critical unit, trains thousands of personnel in aviation maintenance.
Several years ago, the Army considered transferring the brigade to Fort Rucker in Alabama, the home of Army aviation. Personnel from the 128th lived in dilapidated housing at Eustis as the Army weighed its decision. It was Gen. Robert Cone, then the TRADOC commander and now retired, who pushed to renovate housing for the 128th at Eustis and keep the brigade her, Galbraith said. The four-phase project is in its third phase.
Galbraith also speaks highly of the Soldier For Life program, which seeks to ease the transition of solders as they leave the service and seek civilian jobs. It is a more holistic approach than previous efforts, working with young soldiers early in their careers on financial management and education.
"There is uncertainty in the entire military as to ... end strength," he said. "We are trying to right-size, but as we right-size, we do not want to move people out of the military unprepared. So how do we prepare them?"
Throughout his tenure, Galbraith has relied on Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Jackson for advice. Jackson had an earlier tour at Eustis, serving from 1998 to 2003. Both he and Galbraith will relinquish their duties in a change of command ceremony on June 28.
"He's been an awesome garrison commander," Jackson said of his boss.
Galbraith has a passion and drive to connect with soldiers at Eustis, "and then he goes out and does the same thing outside the installation," Jackson said.
While Galbraith is headed for Germany, Jackson plans to retire later this year.
The colonel said he and the sergeant major are of like minds. Both are trained in logistics, and that makes them problem-fixers.
"We see it as, 'What is the requirement?' and 'What is the need?' " Galbraith said.
Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.