Fort Knox declares businesses off limits to soldiers

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By Marty Finley

 An order issued by the Department of the Army has made a handful of businesses off limits to Fort Knox soldiers.

The memorandum, which serves as a direct military order to Armed Forces personnel, identified The Military Company in Elizabethtown; Prospect-based Bella Construction LLC or any businesses owned by Byron J. Grimes; and Bluebird Realty LLC, Bluebird Properties LLC, Bluebird Investment Group LLC, Affordable Heating and Cooling Inc., Affordable Investments LLC or any businesses owned by and operated by Sharon Novak and/or Barry Risinger as prohibited sites for military business.

Military members frequenting these businesses will be found in violation and can be apprehended for disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to the January memorandum.

It states a change in name for any prohibited business does not revoke the off-limit restrictions, which will remain in effect indefinitely.

Lt. Col. Robert Schiller, Fort Knox provost marshal and president of the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board, said businesses make the off-limits list if they exhibit practices not considered in the best interest of soldiers or detrimental to military families.

Schiller said each business is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and complaints are taken before the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board for a thorough examination. Schiller said businesses are not simply deemed off limits once a complaint comes in but are given a chance to defend themselves and present their side of the story in hearings.

“We conduct a thorough review process and provide an opportunity for business owners to explain the situation from their perspective and resolve any issues before the business and/or business owner may be added to the list,” Schiller said. “However, if the business owner is either unable or unwilling to resolve the issue by the time the review process is complete, they risk being added.”

In most cases, Schiller said, problems are rectified through this process without restrictions being imposed.

Schiller said businesses ultimately make the list if the proper corrections are not made to address these concerns and all courses to correct the behavior have been exhausted.

Schiller did not comment on specific complaints made against the flagged businesses, which he said are the only businesses currently off-limits to Fort Knox soldiers.

As for potential punishment for violating the order, Schiller said it is a safeguard to protect families from harmful business practices and is not meant to be used as a threat against soldiers.

Grimes did not return calls made by The News-Enterprise to Bella Construction LLC and The Military Company’s listed website and email address were out of service. A call to a number identified for The Military Company through the Better Business Bureau was not answered.

Sharon Novak said she was offended by the off-limits restriction and has asked Fort Knox to review her case again.

A letter written to the Army in late October by Novak through Bluebird Investment Group addressed two complaints she said was the cause of the restrictions against her businesses. Novak said one of the businesses on the list, Bluebird Realty, was dissolved last year.

One complaint arose after a tenant kept filing work orders for a malfunctioning heating unit, she said. Repairmen were sent on several occasions and found no problems with the unit, which she blamed on a miscommunication. Novak said she approached the woman to determine the problem and learned it was the duct work, which never was evaluated, rather than the heating. Novak took responsibility for the mishap but said she had hired two new employees to run the office who failed to ask the right questions and ascertain the real problem.

The woman was offered a free month of rent but she opted to move instead, Novak said in the letter.

“I do not blame her at all for her frustration as this situation should not have developed as it did,” she stated in the letter to the Army. “The girls who were with our company during this time are no longer with us and were let go because they were never able to efficiently run the rental office as we needed.”

The other complaint stemmed from Novak renting out a home that needed painting and minor repairs to a man who said he would do the work if they would forgo the deposit. Novak in the letter said she occasionally allowed tenants to manage painting and minor repairs if they exhibited knowledge of the work. However, she said the man refused to pay rent, so she moved to evict him.

Novak said the off-limits restriction has harmed her business. Novak said she rents to veterans and has a deep respect for those in service because her ex-husband served.

“I spent my life as a military wife,” she said. “I would never do anything to take advantage of the military.”

Schiller responded to Novak’s letter and said the Army would discuss her case in January. Novak is still hopeful her businesses will be removed and her name cleared.

When contacted about Novak’s comments, Schiller said businesses can request removal from the list.

“Businesses and individuals on the list can make an appeal,” he said. “They will undergo the same thorough review process used to address the original issue.”