May 9, 2008
Pg. 15 Critics say run-down quarters can drive troops' morale down
By Alan Gomez, USA Today
At Fort Campbell, soldiers struggle in the hot Kentucky summers to keep mold from taking over their showers. In the cold winters of Upstate New York, Fort Drum's heating system in the 60-year-old wooden barracks can go from boiling to tepid.
In Hunter Army Airfield in southern Georgia, officials closed down a Korean War-era building this year because it was "falling apart."
Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can find themselves living in less-than-ideal conditions as base commanders work to keep up with repairs to sometimes-century-old buildings.
Though habitable, many barracks in the nation require constant attention and can overwhelm limited maintenance budgets, according to military officials at the bases.
"We've got some ugly barracks around the Army," said Maj. Gen. John A. Macdonald, deputy commanding general of the Army Installation Management Command. "Just (Wednesday), we found some more mold at Fort Rucker, so we moved the troops out."
The condition of Army barracks made national headlines in recent weeks after the father of Sgt. Jeff Frawley, a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division, posted a video of his son's barracks at Fort Bragg, N.C., on the Internet.
The video was created by Ed Frawley and showed rusty stairways, peeling paint, broken toilet seats, a flooded bathroom and mold all around.
It prompted the Army to perform a review of all its barracks around the world.
That review culminated this week when the Army announced Wednesday it would spend $248 million this year on eight bases in the USA that have serious problems with mold, plumbing and temperature control.
Macdonald says problems are to be expected when 79% of U.S. barracks worldwide are more than 30 years old.
To combat the inevitable problems that come with old, heavily used facilities, the Army in recent years has nearly doubled the amount of money going to repair its barracks. In fiscal year 2004, the Army spent $1.7 billion to repair and maintain buildings on bases — most of that going to barracks. In 2008, that figure will be $3.3 billion.
That coincides with a building program that has spent $13 billion since 1994 and will spend an additional $10 billion through 2017 to replace and modernize all those older buildings, Macdonald said.
"What we call the 'operational tempo' of the Army is fierce right now," he said.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was "angry" when he saw the conditions at Fort Bragg. But he said soldiers returning from the cold mountains of Afghanistan or the dangerous cities of Iraq maintain a "warrior ethos" that makes a leaky faucet inconsequential.
"They just want a roof over their heads, they want some air conditioning and a cold beer," Davis said. "Parents may not know that. They're just happy that they can take a break without checking their 6 o'clock position for the bad guy anymore."
Others say it's a serious issue that affects morale and retention when the military is already stretched thin.
The Pentagon says the proportion of recruits who remain in the service is 15% higher at bases with high-quality housing. That sentiment led Peter Singer, a military expert at the Brookings Institution, to wonder why it took one soldier's father to prompt the entire Army to action.
"It's sad that it took a YouTube video to cause the military to face what is a serious issue that affects morale and retention," Singer said. "That's not how the system is supposed to work."
Age alone does not determine a building's condition.
Fort Riley in Kansas has some of the oldest buildings in the Army, dating to the late 1800s. But those buildings were constructed using 2-foot-thick limestone, meaning they hold up well in summer and winter. Recently, base officials spent $4.3 million on each of those barracks to completely modernize them, said base public works director Larry McGee.
Each soldier has his own room in the historic buildings.
At Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the 10th Mountain Division, the age and design of some barracks limit how much upgrading can be done.
The World War II-era buildings are made of wood and were built with one furnace per building. That would leave the second floor sweltering while soldiers on the first floor would be clamoring to turn up the lone thermostat, said James Corriveau, public works director.
There are now two furnaces per barrack, but Corriveau said the buildings can't be updated to provide room-by-room temperature control, upsetting many soldiers during the cold winters.
Corriveau said the buildings were built so close together that his crews can't even add sidewalks to the area to make snow-sweeping easier.
"Back then, soldiers didn't have cars, so there's no room to even put a parking lot because things were different in 1941," Corriveau said.
Age also played a factor this year at Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield. Base spokesman Kevin Larson said officials moved 500 soldiers out of the base's oldest building — Building 1277, built in the 1950s — after they deemed it unlivable.
"It was falling apart, it was hard to maintain, so it was condemned," Larson said.
The other determining factor in barracks upkeep is perhaps the most important one: money.
At Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, officials face a "constant struggle" to keep mold out of barracks built during the 1950s, said James Duttweiler, base public works director. He said the group latrines sometimes get mold on shower walls and ceilings because of the high humidity.
Duttweiler said a limited maintenance budget in recent years has made it hard to keep up. Until recently, he said, his budget was less than half of what was needed to keep up with repairs.
"Many routine repairs were deferred, and at times, portions of buildings were closed off while we sought additional funding to resolve problems," Duttweiler said in an e-mail.
The Army hopes those days are over.
In the past, money designated for building maintenance was split up between the Army's 15 major commands, which owned and operated all bases. Those commands would often divert some of that money to other areas, especially active operations. In 2004, $2.4 billion was designated for building maintenance and modernization, but $700 million was diverted elsewhere.
That has changed after the creation of the Installation Management Command in 2006, which receives all the maintenance and modernization money and has been able to spend all of it, said Philip E. Sakowitz, the command's executive director.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior policy analyst of national security at the Heritage Foundation, said that focus must be maintained.
She said recent problems with barracks maintenance and infrastructure could come at the expense of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If conditions don't improve, she says, soldiers may begin turning away.
"The Army needs to maintain high recruiting and retention figures more than an 18-year-old or 22-year-old needs to sign up for the Army," Eaglen said. Slated for change
After a worldwide review of barracks, the Army will spend $248 million to address mold, plumbing and temperature-control problems at eight bases. They are: Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Gordon, Ga.; •Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Polk, La.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii; and West Point, N.Y.