FORT DRUM — As Col. Noel T. Nicolle prepares for his next assignment in South Korea, area leaders credited him with helping to stabilize and quantify the area’s housing shortage for soldiers and their families and for being a positive public face to the north country’s outside civilian community.
At 10 a.m. today at the post’s Sexton Field, Col. Nicolle will transfer garrison command to Col. Gary A. Rosenberg.
The job entails overseeing the day-to-day operations of the post, and also ensuring a smooth relationship with government officials, educators, hospitals, media and other portions of the civilian community.
“Noel’s been a very forthcoming and friendly face for anybody doing business for Fort Drum,” said F. Anthony Keating, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army. “He’s done what I think is an exemplary job.”
Col. Nicolle, who replaced Col. Kenneth H. Riddle in 2010, entered into the role after a career in field artillery. He said he adjusted to the new job by putting his faith in the post’s civilian staff.
“I realized I was not the subject-matter expert on any of this stuff,” Col. Nicolle said. “Sometimes you have to swallow some humble pie and allow yourself to be taught.”
One of the biggest changes under Col. Nicolle was a stabilizing of housing for incoming soldiers. Among the policy changes were funding only one housing move for soldiers assigned to post and adding restrictions to the length of time soldiers could stay in a hotel while looking for housing.
Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said the changes brought benefits to area school districts and landlords because they limited the number of movements by families during a soldier’s assignment to Fort Drum.
“He simplified the whole process,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Joseph E. McLaughlin, project director for Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, said the changes resulted in “everybody getting settled at the beginning of the tour.”
Col. Nicolle also helped quantify the post’s housing shortage, working to hash out differences between the post’s calculations and the number used by the FDRLO. At the organization’s annual meeting in June, Col. Nicolle said the area had a deficiency of about 1,035 housing units.
Mr. Keating said Col. Nicolle was pivotal in ensuring the post retained its quality of services and programs in the face of funding cutbacks across the military.
“For him to be able to do that, he really had to be out in front of it,” Mr. Keating said. “You have to plan for it and implement in an orderly fashion.”
Col. Nicolle also was praised for his ability to connect to the community.
“He’s been very conscious of the relationships in the area,” said Elizabeth C. Fipps, executive director of the Samaritan Medical Center Foundation and FDRLO’s chairwoman. “He truly saw himself as a member of this community.”
Col. Nicolle said he realized the importance of building relationships while on deployment in Iraq. He said his southern Louisiana roots helped him when it came to meeting new people.
“We like to eat, and we like to talk,” Col. Nicolle said. “It was an easy transition.”
One visible sign of the post’s success under Col. Nicolle was its recognition as an Army Community of Excellence, identifying it as one of the top installations in the U.S. Army.
“The first day that I drove around on the installation and began looking around, I had to ask myself, ‘Why is Fort Drum not recognized as an Army Community of Excellence?’ Col. Nicolle said.
Highlighting the post’s strengths and community support, he said bringing the post into contention “didn’t take a whole lot of effort to harness.”
Last year, he created Fort Drum’s Army Ball as a way to encourage civilians to attend a formal event on post while being entertained by some of the military’s top musicians and seeing a historic tribute to the service and sacrifice of soldiers.
“To tell the truth, I attended the Mayor’s Ball in 2011 and thought, ‘Wow, why don’t we have an installation-level ball on post?’” Col. Nicolle said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to reach out to our local community in a formal way and show them a bit of military pageantry and history, to boot.”
Col. Nicolle will be stationed next at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, South Korea. He will be joined by his wife, Tamara, and sons Joseph, 9, and James, 5.
While enthusiastic about his new assignment, he said, he felt an “incredible sense of sadness” to be leaving the north country.
“This isn’t just an assignment,” Col. Nicolle said. “This is a place we’ve called home.”