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Outgoing YTC commander successfully balanced priorities

Northwest Guardian

Published: 05:03PM July 10th, 2014

Lieutenant Colonel Darrell O’Steen has had two years of savoring the dry, hot summers of the Yakima Valley.

“It’s a lot different from most of my assignments,” O’Steen said, adding that he mostly has been in the Southeast during his 25 years in the Army. “I do not miss the humidity at all.”

As commander of the Yakima Training Center, it’s the most obvious perk amid many that aren’t as visible. Now that the perks have changed hands, O’Steen said he’s going to miss the area.

“When we bring up Yakima, people think, 'it sucks,'" O’Steen said. “They don’t know anything else but Yakima Training Center. But all the opportunities that the Yakima Valley has are phenomenal.”

O’Steen transferred command of YTC to Lt. Col. Jason Evers on Thursday. One of Evers’ duties will be continuing to forge strong bonds with Yakima County’s municipalities.

O’Steen said a big part of that is marketing the valley to transitioning service members. Yakima has a large veteran population inside of its 125,000 residents, providing an informal support network along with more organized groups and activities for veterans. O’Steen said he has helped lay those foundations with Yakima and Selah.

“We say that about five miles south of (YTC), that’s where civilization begins,” he said.

When it comes to YTC itself, O’Steen said he’s proud of how he and the staff have helped improve the quality of life for the civilian workforce. YTC is authorized for 150 civilians, but when he arrived in 2012, the center had about 100.

Many in the workforce also are reaching retirement age amid an increased workload with Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).

In the end, much of the center’s balance comes down to risk and what’s considered acceptable.

“We as a nation, as DOD, we’ve all got more requirements than we’ve got manpower to do,” O’Steen said. “We’ve been very fortunate that the leadership of I Corps understood that.”

O’Steen said he and the civilian staff underwent routine priority reviews with the center’s directorates and the facility at large to identify those areas and keep the focus on the highest priority tasks: exceptional service to customers using the center.

The biggest change came from adjusting the center’s operation time from 24 hours a day to 16, which resulted in a better quality of life for the workforce.

O’Steen said that change meant strengthening the lines of communication between customer units, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I Corps and YTC took on added importance. Units submitted their training event plans for YTC officials to analyze; rarely could the center not accommodate an event, but it did happen, and it usually came down to personnel.

O’Steen credited his civilian workforce for managing to still serve customer units even with those limitations, and when it came to advice for the incoming commander, he came back to that workforce.

“Don’t get stuck in the day-to-day support operations,” O’Steen said. “We’ve got a staff for that. Allow the staff to do their job. Look out at the second and third effects.”

O’Steen, his wife and their three boys are headed to Korea, where he will become deputy brigade commander for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.