Inn's manager, TEC commander praise housekeepers

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
Residents at the McGhee Tyson Inn here can be proud of their housekeepers, said base officials recently.

The new hospitality manager for the base's lodging facility recently praised her staff for their "great work" and invited public affairs from the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center to share an inside look.

"They do a lot," said Abby Aberdeen, billeting manager.

Aberdeen arrived in September after some changes in management. She is an East Tennessee resident and a Navy veteran who slept in shared living areas during her time in the service. "These are pristine quarters," she said in comparison.

Aberdeen said that the lodging staff includes more than two dozen state and contract employees who work three shifts. They manage the rooms and their reservations as well as operate the check-in desk 24-7. Airmen assigned from the 134th Air Refueling Wing and those with the TEC also help with student scheduling, time and attendance, and other military services. 

TEC's commander also complimented the lodging facility for their work in an email. "The civilian staff is caring, attentive, responsive and professional, which ultimately enriches our students' experiences," said Col. Jessica Meyeraan.

The Air Force's professional military education students on short-term assignments with TEC each year make up the bulk of lodging's guests. There are also distinguished visitors, veterans, and base personnel serving on unit training assembly weekends. Aberdeen tells her staff that every guest gets the same level of respect and treatment, regardless of rank and status.

"We are going to be professional; we are going to be welcoming," said Aberdeen. "It's just the way it should be."

Each morning housekeepers assigned to the four, multilevel buildings, begin a daunting task to check and prepare more than 243 rooms with 393 beds. They navigate their cleaning supplies, carts and vacuums through a maze of hallways, breezeways, lounges and laundry rooms.

They knock on room doors, "housekeeping," they call out. 

Sometimes there is a muffled answer inside to come back later, or there is a privacy tag on the door, but most occupants are in class.

"We all do windows," said Aberdeen, lightheartedly.

Aberdeen explained that quality inspectors scrutinize the cleanliness and appearance to ensure a high standard. A contracted company cleans the sheets and towels, but changing them, refolding them and restocking them are among the daily challenges for the staff.

How long it takes to clean a room depends on the size (there are single-occupancy, double-occupancy and VIP suites), or if a guest is assigned to it, and if someone is staying, or they checked out. Housekeepers are required to check a room after a specified time regardless of privacy tags.

In general, they said they enjoy supporting the service members. "It's really neat that they get to interact with the military ... they like that," said Aberdeen.

Students who arrive by the hundreds for weeks of leadership training also graduate together and their rooms require a deep cleaning, said officials. Housekeepers can work extra to prepare rooms for an incoming class just days after a graduation.

They also upkeep the buildings' exteriors - walkways and courtyards are kept clean with brooms and pressure washers. Supply rooms need refilling and straightening too, and they operate a small electric truck and a handcart to resupply each floor with toiletries, paper towels and cleaning products.

Aside from the standard, southern hospitality, the various orange-themed shirts worn by the staff are a fun reminder to arriving guests that they are in the University of Tennessee's football territory. Aberdeen wore an orange- and white-checkered flannel shirt as well as orange shoelaces. "We are helping you-all do your job better ... we are big on customer service," she said.
Dawn Morris has been on the cleaning staff for nearly three years. She works on the day shift. She went room-by-room dusting, then wiping down the mirrors, surfaces, windows and walls.  She made the beds. She vacuumed. She cleaned the bathrooms and added fresh towels and washcloths, as well as provided soap and paper supplies.

Each floor also has a lounge, laundry room and hallways to maintain. A checklist helps Morris and the others keep track of it all. There are also housekeeper's notes to write and leave for some guests when special attention is needed.

"We get our keys in the morning, and wherever our lead tells us to go to, we get started," said Morris.

Randy Fisher, retired Air Force, who served 38 years with the 134th Air Refueling Wing, oversees the quality assurance program. He also orders supplies. "It's a big operation in just the towels and sheets here with the number of guests and students that we have," said Fisher.

The Air Force Inn's standards are their guideline. "They work really hard, every day out here," said Fisher about the housekeepers. "We ask a lot of them."
When graduates depart TEC, its normal for them to remember their instructors, said Meyeraan. Nevertheless, they also had civilian employees from the community who provided day-to-day amenities, including the dining facility, property upkeep, barbershop, dry cleaning and many other services and securities. 

"It seems we only think to remark when those actions aren't done the way we've become accustomed," said Meyeraan. "We may complain and never complement.  I encourage faculty, staff and students to notice the details overlooked previously and consider expressing gratitude to those who see to them every single day."