FORT POLK — When the Army initiated a pilot program that targeted quality-of-life improvements at Fort Irwin, California; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Fort Polk leadership hit the ground running.

"Fort Irwin and Fort Polk are ... austere, but it is where we do all of our (brigade combat team) training. We send our best leaders at all levels that go train our BCTs … to places that don't have a lot of quality of life," Gen. Gus Perna, commanding general, Army Materiel Command said in announcing the initiative.

Among the quality of life improvements made at Fort Polk since Perna’s directive are:

• A refurbished walking trail for Soldiers living in barracks along Mississippi Avenue in the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) footprint, providing a safer, shorter trip for visits to the Main Post Exchange area.

Geronimo Trail, which cuts a path through the woods between Bayou Theater and the Main Exchange, has been widened, brush removed, aggregate placed, bridge repaired, lighting installed and footing improved which makes the trail less dangerous.

“Soldiers have always walked this trail, but it had fallen into a terrible state,” Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, said. “Thousands of Soldiers will walk this enhanced trail; you can already see Soldiers using the new sidewalks that allow them to walk from the northern end of Main Post Polk to use the Golf Course Trail and transition over to the new sidewalk. It improves safety.”

• More than 25 couples gathered in the Fort Polk Army Community Service ballroom to renew their marriage vows on Feb. 14 — Valentines Day.

The date night event, hosted by ACS’ Family Advocacy Program, included dining, games, dancing, door prizes and free childcare, in addition to the vow renewal.

Kristina England, FAP manager, said date nights are held quarterly.

“We wanted to do a vow renewal around Valentines Day,” she said. “We have such a high-tempo at Fort Polk, so we wanted to give Soldiers and their spouses some time to themselves to recommit and renew.”

Fort Polk Garrison Commander Col. Ryan K. Roseberry said date night events are great for Soldiers and their Families because they’re free.

“This is something we can do for our Families that is very low cost,” Roseberry said. “These are quality of life events we should be doing for our Soldiers and their Families. This is what the garrison does to take care of Families.”

• A new artifical turf field which provides a quality surface for both physical training and testing and athletic events was opened Feb. 24.

Frank said as Soldiers ran past the field over the last few months during physical training they witnessed a transformation. He said the field used to be an old beat up block with a PT field that had all sorts of depressions that could have caused injuries to Soldiers.

“It was a pretty rough field. What we see now is a state of the art platform for our Soldiers to get ready for the Army Combat Fitness Test, PT and combat. It’s unbelievable,” he said. 

Frank said garrison command is working out the details of putting a second turf field on the southern end of Fort Polk.

“We would like to have two PT fields for our Soldiers as they continue to forge the Warrior Spirit here at JRTC and Fort Polk,” he said.

In addition to Soldier training, Frank said the field would be available for off duty activities.

“Soldiers are going to be drawn to this field like a magnet. There will be all sorts of pick up games out here including soccer, flag football and more. It will just be Soldiers enjoying a little bit of camaraderie and fun at Anvil Field,” he said. “That’s what this thing was designed for, both professional and personal use to ensure our Soldiers have a better quality of life.”

• Fort Polk housing remains a top priority for the installation’s command team — a quality of life initiative that impacts Soldier and Family Readiness. Issues with military housing have prompted Congressional hearings and headlines in news media across the country.

Changes and improvements have been implemented on Fort Polk, including inspections of all housing, to include barracks, and an infusion of millions of dollars for renovations and construction of 70 new homes. 

• Education is pivotal to the quality of life of the Soldiers and Families of Fort Polk and, in turn, the success of its mission. 

That’s why parents of school age children were invited to an education discussion Feb. 20 at the Fort Polk Warrior Center’s Commanding General’s Pub. 

Edith K. Pickens, a Highly Qualified Expert to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and senior advisor for Workforce Development and Integration, led the event and encouraged parents to discuss their concerns. 

Prior to the education discussion, Pickens spent time touring and observing local schools including Pickering High and Elementary schools, Rosepine High and Elementary schools, Parkway Elementary, Leesville High School, Leesville Junior High, Vernon Middle School and North Polk Elementary. 

In addition to the tours, Pickens talked to school administrators, teachers and military students to get a better picture of the education available to Fort Polk’s military families and the challenges they face.

Kim Moltz, an occupational therapist who works with military children, attended the event to advocate for special needs families.

“I think this is a great opportunity to share what we see every day when it comes to military children and the education they receive. I think this is a great opportunity for Families to make things better,” said Moltz. 

• Skate time, hosted by Fort Polk’s Child and Youth Services Sports and Fitness Program gave youngsters — and those young at heart — a chance to lace up skates and enjoy family time.

Jenna Mallon, a CYS sports and fitness program specialist, said she and her coworkers are always brainstorming ideas to provide kids with safe, fun and inexpensive opportunities to play.  

“Skating seemed like the perfect activity. Then we had to come up with fun themes for them and their families to enjoy while skating,” she said. 

Mallon said events like this are especially important because it means Fort Polk Families don’t have to travel off post to have a good time.

“At CYS, we specialize in children, but this event is the perfect opportunity for Families to spend time together, too.”

• Keeping with the family theme, the Main Exchange hosted a Disney Tea Party, featuring popular characters from Disney films and providing an opportunity for area “princesses” to take photos with the stars, showing that quality of life activities are important not only to adults, but to youngsters as well.

Fort Polk Soldiers and Family members will continue to see quality of life improvements as the Army and local leadership strive to make the installation a station of choice for the Army’s best.