After two years of navigating the Fort Gordon Garrison command through furloughs, staff reductions and funding cuts, Col. Bob Barker will take on a new leadership role this week that, unlike his most recent job, centers on two new words – “projected growth.”
With the post set to expand its cyber training operations by 1,600 soldiers in the next two years, the Army announced Monday that it will promote Barker to become the next chief of staff to Maj. Gen. LaWarren V. Patterson, the commander of the Army Signal Corps.
The move will become official at 8 a.m. Thursday, when Barker relinquishes command of Fort Gordon’s garrison operations to Col. Samuel G. Anderson, the former head of the Army’s Joint Communications Unit, during a ceremony at Barton Field.
Barker said Monday that he was surprised by the news but excited he will be able to remain at Fort Gordon and watch as the post – and the Augusta economy – expands as other bases and military towns lose thousands of troops and, as a result, millions of dollars.
“I was expecting that it would be about time for me to move again, but one night Gen. Patterson walked into my office and said I was going to be his next chief of staff – I was shocked,” Barker said. “I like this area and I like being here, and now I have an opportunity to see many of the projects I started here in the garrison be completed. Overall, it is a great thing.”
Barker took over the garrison command in 2011 at a time of uncertainty for Fort Gordon.
Looming ahead were sequestration, which left a $37 billion hole in the Defense Department’s budget, and news that troop levels would be cut by 80,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017.
Despite the challenges, Barker kept employee morale high through a number of projects that aim to shorten commuter travel times and improve 1960-style housing soldiers in training called home at the post.
Construction has begun on a “high-speed” loop at Fort Gordon that would reroute incoming traffic at Gate 1 to a roundabout at Lane Avenue and speed travel to the west side of the post, especially during the morning hours when troops are crossing busy corridors.
Also, Fort Gordon is two years away from upgrading its training barracks for its 15th Signal Brigade. The renovated facilities, which in the past slept four to five soldiers per room, will now house two people per room, with each apartment getting individual bathrooms.
Barker said the experience he gained in the two projects will help him work behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes and deal with policy issues between the garrison and all military units before they bubble up to Patterson, Fort Gordon’s chief executive.
“Now that I have seen both sides, one of the things I hope to accomplish is to be able to help the Signal Corps function more efficiently by eliminating all the confusions there might be about which particular staff is supposed to do what particular function,” Barker said.
As the former director of capabilities, development and integration, Barker said, he is familiar with each unit’s purpose and has a good understanding of everything going on right now, which could be beneficial to a post that could become the home of the Army Cyber Command and a new Cyber Center of Excellence.
Though each addition has yet to be formally approved by the secretary of the Army, Barker said Fort Gordon’s Network Enterprise and Intelligence and Security commands are estimated to grow by 800 soldiers between now and the middle of fiscal year 2015.
The increase in the two units, which oversee the post’s computer network and participate in the Army’s growing cyber missions, could have a large impact on the Augusta economy, its housing market and the “prestige of Fort Gordon,” Barker said.
Barker could not say whether the momentum would carry into a reduction in civilian furloughs, which he said has “put a huge strain” on the garrison’s workforce of 400 some employees, who at times, were expected to work double for 20 percent less pay.
He thanked his staffers for their continued support, however, saying he would not be where he is today without their hard work.
“After going through a staff reduction of 100 positions, an 11-day furlough and continued spending cuts, the folks who worked at the garrison – through all that uncertainty – managed to complete 99 percent of our missions, most of the time with a smile on their faces,” Barker said. “You are not ever going to find a better bunch of people who can go through all that and still keep Fort Gordon running. I will miss them greatly.”