|A soldier in the Charlie Company perched on a sink as he tried to unclog a drain in a flooded bathroom in barracks at Fort Bragg, N.C. The photo was released last week. (associated press)|
Thousands living in shoddy barracks
YouTube video leads to order to fix them up
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Specialist Kaila Colvin is looking forward to getting married for the usual reasons, and for one more particular to a soldier: not having to live in Fort Campbell's decrepit barracks anymore.
Specialist Loren Dauterman, who trained at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin last month with the National Guard, found something good to say about the falling-apart floors and ceilings in her quarters.
"It is better than sleeping out in the woods," Dauterman said last week, "but not a whole lot better."
Thousands of soldiers are assigned to barracks built for the GIs who served during World War II and the Korean War. The buildings are showing their age, and the soldiers are getting fed up.
After a soldier's father posted a video on YouTube last month showing the dilapidated barracks for paratroopers at Fort Bragg, N.C., Defense Secretary Robert Gates called those conditions appalling and ordered base commanders to ensure their troops have proper quarters.
The commanders have their work cut out for them.
A spot check by Associated Press reporters over the past week found many barracks plagued by recurring problems with mold, mildew, and their plumbing and wiring.
In many cases, the wooden, cramped, and outdated housing units were scheduled for destruction, but space and economic constraints from the war in Iraq have again filled the old barracks with soldiers. Major installations like Fort Campbell and Fort Stewart, Ga., report pumping more than $100 million into barracks improvements in recent years to make room for the flood of recruits and brigades.
Army Secretary Pete Geren said yesterday at Fort Bragg that the Army has inspected 148,000 rooms at bases worldwide since officers saw the video about two weeks ago. Only eight soldiers needed to be moved to make repairs or renovations, he said.
Geren also said the Army took $248 million in emergency funds from other priorities to fix problems found by the inspections.
"We ordered a look at literally every single room," Geren said. "We didn't find any looming danger to their health and safety."
Still, military leaders concede that the housing situation as a whole is deplorable despite the millions spent over the decades to gut, retrofit, and renovate the old structures.
At Fort Stewart the combination of a new combat brigade and ongoing construction has some soldiers sleeping and eating in large trailers until new barracks are built.
Soldiers at Fort McCoy, a sprawling World War II-era base in western Wisconsin now used for short-term Guard and Reserve training, stay in two-story wooden barracks dating to 1942. Fewer than half of the 276 barracks have been renovated or modernized.
Guard Master Sergeant Patrick Robinson, 55, of Wausau, Wis., saw peeling paint, missing floor tiles, and clogged shower drains during his many training missions at the base. "You couldn't pay me to go into the shower rooms without shower shoes on," he said.
A few years ago Robinson, 55, refused to sleep in the barracks after opening a window and getting dead flies blown onto his bed. In 2006, he returned from Iraq to moldy barracks he said looked like a "pigsty."
Dauterman said she never complained about the Fort McCoy conditions. "We are in the Army and we accept many things about it. We are just accustomed to it," she said.
The Wisconsin Guard soldiers' commander, Colonel Hillis Tinglum, said the barracks are acceptable given the short nature of training stays there. Compared with the conditions soldiers encounter in the Middle East, "We have nothing to complain about in staying in barracks like these," Tinglum said.
In 1994, the Army launched a barracks modernization program to replace all its oldest housing. Brigadier General Dennis Rogers, who is responsible for maintaining Army housing, said last week that besides poor physical condition, the old barracks offer too little privacy to meet the expectations of today's younger generation.
It was a frequent complaint from soldiers who were interviewed.
"Privacy-wise, you can't hide anything," Colvin said. "It's definitely cramped."
About a third of Fort Campbell's single soldier barracks - serving some 3,300 soldiers - house two soldiers to a room. The 46 soldiers on each floor have to share two large bathroom facilities.
"It's kind of a pain," Colvin said. "There are only four showerheads in the bathroom."
Other soldiers are bothered by the buildup of grime.
Private Chris Daugherty, a Guardsman from Shreveport, La., says no amount of cleaning could keep his Fort Knox barracks spotless.
"It was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, but no matter how much you clean, the barracks have been used by so many privates that as far as the air ducts and the air systems, you can't get it totally clean," said Daugherty, who just completed combined basic training and advanced individual training.
The base is replacing heating and air conditioning systems to decrease mold in showers and living quarters.
The Army aims to have new or renovated barracks housing for 147,700 enlisted soldiers within five years, according to Ned Christensen, chief of public affairs for the Army Installation Management Command. The Army doesn't have a total for all its barracks spending, but Christensen estimated that between 2004 and 2013, the construction cost for new barracks complexes will amount to $10.7 billion.
The Pentagon also gives troops more financial incentive to rent or buy housing in communities near their base rather than stay on base. Monthly allowances that vary according to a soldier's location, rank, and dependents have been increased substantially in recent years.
But for those living on base, the conditions can be grim.
Ed Frawley, who shot the video of the Fort Bragg barracks after his son, Sergeant Jeff Frawley, came back from Afghanistan, said his son had lived in those barracks since he joined the Army in 2004. The Army said the younger Frawley isn't talking to reporters.
"He said it was depressing," the father said, "because you work all day and then you have to go back to these barracks."