Where Soldiers Have to Live

Last year, the Washington Post illuminated the horrors of barracks life for wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed. The coverage ended careers, triggered Congressional inquiries, and catalyzed building improvements and numerous other fixes. More broadly, the scandal opened America's eyes to the larger challenges facing military personnel and veterans today.

Unfortunately, problems like those at Walter Reed still exist, and they exist throughout the Army, even at some of its most storied bases. When his son came home to Fort Bragg, N.C., from a combat tour in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, one father found massive infestations of mold, peeling paint, standing water, rust, ripped out fixtures and many other problems in his son's barracks. Instead of merely getting angry, he made a YouTube video documenting what he saw:


Absolutely appalling and disgusting. But unfortunately, not surprising.

Those barracks probably aren't WWII-vintage, as the video says. That concrete style was built sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. You'll find similar barracks at Fort Campbell, Fort Benning, and Fort Hood, among other bases.

Still, these old buildings are in a state of perpetual decay. They cannot handle the human load of full occupancy, because their infrastructure (wiring, plumbing, etc.) is simply too aged. Expert maintenance supervised by hawkish sergeants major can keep these buildings in decent shape. But when left empty, as during a unit deployments, such buildings fall apart. Mold grows. Railings rust. Sewers clog. The building become uninhabitable.

There's no excuse for this. These buildings are on active-duty bases. Fort Bragg might not have the troops to take care of barracks back home, but it could have contracted for this job or found another way to get it done. It failed to do so. And once again, it's the soldiers and veterans who must pay the price.

Update: CNN reports that the Army's #2 general, Richard Cody, personally called the father and videographer to express his concern over the Fort Bragg barracks situation. "The conditions depicted in Mr. Frawley's video are appalling and unacceptable, and we are addressing the concerns he expressed," said a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division and Fort Bragg.

By Phillip Carter |  April 28, 2008; 8:01 AM ET  | Category:  Army
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I come from a proud military family, and have sent my son and nephews into combat deployments to Iraq SIX times, and one to Afghanistan. I have a nephew in Iraq now--we've had family in Iraq nonstop since the war began five long miserable endless years ago.

This video is so sickening that I am WORDLESS to describe how I feel. Does the army not have the kinds of billions that Halliburton and KBR do? There are so many hundreds of billions of dollars floating around the Pentagon and the DoD these days, and this barracks represents a PATTERN--not an isolated incident. It is ABUSE of the troops.

Why is that?

Where is the outrage? Where is the media coverage? Where are the military apologies?

This communicates to our men and women in uniform that they really are merely cannon fodder; that once they've risked their lives, limbs, and sanity in war, they are truly forgotten and disposable.

Shame on us all for allowing this--ESPECIALLY shame on those politicians who love nothing better than to stand up in front of "the troops" as photo-op backdrops when they want to look good, then abandon those same troops when they need decent housing, life-saving equipment, or maybe an updated G.I. Bill.

Posted by: Deanie Mills | April 28, 2008 9:55 AM

Disgusting! Shame on the Bush administration and Congress and the Army leadership that let this happen. Thanks for the tip Phil, I have emailed my congress critters and am now trying to get this shown on the local TV station.

I seem to recall that last year you predicted that the Walter Reed mess was just the tip of the iceberg. Good catch. Is the Washington Post going to put this in their hard copy print edition? If not then please use your influence.

mike

Posted by: mike | April 28, 2008 12:21 PM

This is another hard slap in the face of those who risk everything for the country they love. Why don't we, as a nation, love them back?!
Why aren't the media screaming this on the front page?! What do our warriors have to do to get a decent standard of living?! This needs to be required viewing for all memres of Congress, and especially Obama, Clinton and McCain.

Posted by: Dan, American in Germany | April 28, 2008 1:43 PM

Outrageous, disgusting, but in no way surprising. Just another day the the GWB world of the military.

IMPEACH - IMPEACH - IMPEACH

Posted by: Aviator47 | April 28, 2008 3:15 PM

I was in the Army for 4 years. When I reported to my unit in 2003, my unit was in Iraq and I had to wait 3 weeks before I deployed. My commander let me stay in the barracks that had been vacant for 6 months. It was so disgusting, I got mono from the conditions and from either the bathroom or the bed also got mulloscum, an STD that is only contracted by people with AIDS (or mono, when the immune system is severely weakened). Barracks are gross.

Posted by: LTR | April 28, 2008 4:28 PM

Come on, if you are going to write about the military know that the Army has posts and the Marines, Navy, and Air Force have bases.

That being said, the conditions on the post are horrible. I am ashamed that our soldiers have to put up with such conditions in the States.

Posted by: mikeyes | April 28, 2008 4:33 PM

You'd have thought that with all the money that is going into bonuses to ensure higher retention rates among trained soldiers that somebody would have thought to keep the barracks in reasonably good shape. How many of the soldiers in this video are going to re-enlist when the time comes? Not nearly as many as would have if the Army had kept its promises to replace that barracks.

The Bush administration continues its relentless drive toward being remembered as the worst in US history. IMPEACHMENT is the only answer.

Posted by: pluto | April 28, 2008 6:22 PM

I'm guessing that these are the old brick barracks on Ardennes Street. They were fairly craptacular when I lived in them back in the 1980's.

Posted by: FDChief | April 28, 2008 6:29 PM

Some things never change. When I was enlisted back in the dark ages, I stayed in places every bit as bad. One promotion incentive was to get out of these hell-holes. Unfortunately, even as an officer, I spent time in BOQs this bad.

I'm going to lodge a rare disagreement here with Al, the Aviator. This is not a Bush hit. Wish it were, but it's not. This is an Army hit, pure and simple. This actually goes to the heart of the United States Army. It's always been this way,

Enlisted personnel in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps do not live in such squalor. For whatever reason, those services are able to budget enough to provide decent living accommodations for even their most junior enlisted personnel. The Army never has.

Old Army saying: "Nothing's too good for the troops, and that's what they get--nothing."

This is an Army hit. Senior Army officers have never cared enough. And the Army senior NCO corps is both uncaring and toothless. It goes back to the draft, you know. This is the U.S. Army, 30 years later, still with draft attitudes.

Posted by: Publius | April 28, 2008 7:39 PM

Awwwwwww, you're just soft.

In the Corps, we'd look at those barracks and call them distinguished VIP quarters. That's where we'd put our generals and top enlisted guys. Visit Camp Pendleton or any other Marine Corps Base and you'll see much worse.

Then visit the Navy and Air Force bases on the coasts. Note the manicured golf courses, brand new dorms (not barracks) for their troops, and so on.

Suffering is all relative.

Posted by: Old Jarhead | April 28, 2008 7:48 PM

I remember staying at the "Warrior Keep" at Ft. Polk during the leadership train-up prior to a rotation at the JRTC. The conditions there were horrendous; mold, crumbling walls, brown water, rusted fixtures in the bathroom, and the best part? We were charged full per diem for staying there!

Every Army post has similar semi-abandoned barracks (I stayed in some even worse - corrugated metal sheds - on North Ft. Hood during a Warfighter computer exercise) that are used as temporary or emergency quarters.

Why don't soldier's complain? Because a broken down shack or lean-to is still better than a tent and a cot, which in turn is better than the top of hummer, or a hasty fighting position (otherwise known as a shallow hole in the ground).

Posted by: Mike | April 28, 2008 8:52 PM

Sad Article, Phil. You ought to know better. Makes one wonder if you have an agenda...

Here's a url to to just some of the new Barracks Bragg is building as rapidly as they can:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Fort_Bragg_1st_Brigade_barracks.jpg/800px-Fort_Bragg_1st_Brigade_barracks.jpg

It took eight years to build all those 1950s barracks; the replacements will take longer because they're far nicer.

Bad post.

Posted by: Ken White | April 28, 2008 9:09 PM

Old Jarhead is indeed "old." I spend a lot of time at Parris Island and the boots do not live in anything approaching these conditions.

And IOTM that Mike is just making excuses for the inexcusable, by suggesting that accommodations such as this are somehow OK because they're better than a foxhole. Uh, Mike. This is garrison housing at Fort Bragg, which is, last I looked, in the United States. There is no war going on at Fort Bragg. And this is 2008.

Hate to say it, folks, but it's old military guys, who, as we know, ALWAYS had it tougher--just like, when I was a kid, every father, even those who grew up in California, walked 10 miles through the snow to school--that are the enablers for the Army in perpetuating this sad state of affairs.

Officers don't care because they don't live like this, even if they're single. Senior NCOs don't care because when they're in the states, they're home with the family. Besides, it was always tougher for them. I've heard that junior enlisted people in the 80s and 90s actually had to sleep as many as three to a room in the barracks and sometimes couldn't make it to McDonald's for lunch.

I can see it now, on the military sites. Old guys holding forth on how this is no big deal. Telling their war stories and then using all of their great authority to assure all that three hots and a cot is all a soldier really ever cares about.

Posted by: Publius | April 28, 2008 9:12 PM

I agree with Publius that this is an Army problem. Where was the Company Commander, the Battalion Command Sergeant Major, and the Battlion Commander? What happened to the Fort Bragg plan for reception of this unit? Who inspected these barracks before the unit arrived? Etc., etc., etc.

One final observation. Despite problems like Walter Reed and this one, the Army still continues to fund development efforts which are of questionable utility at nearly pre-war levels.

Posted by: John Shepherd | April 28, 2008 9:22 PM

Publius -

Do not mix up the opinions of the excuse-making Mike of the 8:52 post with the real McCoy mike.

These soldiers should not be subjected to those living conditions upon returning home. This is worse than being spit on by hippies back in the day - they were at least being honest about their feelings - but the people responsible for this are wearing the same uniform.

Now like you and the old jarhead and the 8:52 Mike I have lived in worse conditions in the field in wartime. And I have lived in rat-infested Quonset huts or hardback tents during peacetime and had to clean them up with the rest of my platoon under the close supervision of a fire-breathing Senior NCO. But these poor bastards have been handed a scheisthole which should have been kept in better shape or torn down by the Fort Bragg Commander. I don't see them whining, they are trying to fix the place up by themselves.

In any case the news has now hit Army Times so there is going to be hell to pay at the Pentagon. IMHO they should drum out the people responsible. These soldiers deserve better.

mike

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 11:34 PM

Publius, old friend, forgive my rant. Yes, this is an Army problem. In my 35 years of service, I do not remember seeing any "permanent party" stateside facilities in such horrid condition. Now, back then, we didn't see the repetitive unit rotations that the Army currently sees. Thus, it would have been rare for a barracks to have remained unoccupied for an extended period of time, as this one seems to have been. I do recall, however, old WWII structures being rehabbed during Viet Nam to accommodate a growing Army and units that were being formed up to deploy. Nothing as horrid as this comes to mind. We knew the units were to be formed up, and the facilities were made ready - before the fact. No, they weren't 5 star hotels, but they weren't hell holes either. At least someone would give the pig a bath and put some lipstick on it.

It's not like this unit came home unexpectedly. A serious leadership error was made in placing these troops in that building. If it was a case of someone not showing the leadership to check it out beforehand, relief for cause is in order. But, if anyone in the chain of command stepped inside that building before these troops arrived home, they should be court martialed for dereliction of duty for allowing the troops to move in.

I am willing to bet that one of the first excuses offered by those in charge will be, "We had no idea" coupled with "You have to understand". Well, gents, I have a multitude of ideas about his gross failure, and there is no reason for me to understand, other than to understand that incompetence has become the standard.

Posted by: Aviator47 | April 29, 2008 12:18 AM

Al:

Man, it's like you're psychic or something:

"Maj. Tom Earnhardt, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said the conditions are "appalling and unacceptable," but said the post must use the buildings the Army provides.

One problem was that maintenance and repairs weren't complete because the soldiers in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, came home three weeks ahead of schedule, he said."

http://www.newsobserver.com/print/sunday/city_state/story/1051661.html

"We have to use the buildings the Army provides" - wow, that's among the weakest excuses I've ever heard.

Repeat after me - "There is no excuse for this lapse in soldier care. The chain of command is working to fix this egregious fault immediately."

Repeat as necessary.

Posted by: Ray Kimball | April 29, 2008 6:52 AM

Sadly, it's once again a command failure; no one "knows" and no one cares, because no one is ever held accountable. When I was in BCT at Ft. Campbell in 1972, we were in the WW2-era, 2-story wood barracks that had been condemned a decade earlier, but we had a SF O-6 brigade commander who, with his CSM, inspected every barracks monthly, and God help the battalion, company and platoon commanders and their NCOs if a barracks was found to be sub-standard in his opinion. The key was that he cared about his troops and people were held accountable.

Posted by: Bill Cooper | April 29, 2008 8:58 AM

DoD has been replacing barracks - most of the barracks on Bragg are in decent condition. The last few (needed to house soldiers while construction is ongoing) ARE in bad shape - but I will reserve harsh words for the Army (BTW, previous posters are correct -this goes back way before GW Bush) without knowing facts. EG, soldiers have been known to flush bizarre things into barracks plumbing (like combat boots!).

One last comment - when Walter Reed hit WaPo and the Army poured money into the WR barracks, I expected at the time that I would someday here an expose on bad conditions in permanent barracks, since the funding for Walter Reed had to come from somewhere. So congratulations, WaPo, you are at least partially responsible for the conditions pictured above. Feel good about your accomplishments?

Posted by: Vermin8 | April 29, 2008 9:58 AM

Vermin8 said: "So congratulations, WaPo, you are at least partially responsible for the conditions pictured above. Feel good about your accomplishments?"

You blame the press for this because of reporting bad conditions at Walter Reed???? It was the patients at Walter Reed who broke the story. A Republican congressman's wife saw those WR conditions and tried to get them changed to no avail. Her husband the Congressman went to the Secretary of the Army, a Bush political appointee, but still got no action. The problem there and here rests with the current administration and with the Army leadership. You can throw the blame on others to try to shake off responsibility, and I am sure it will work with a few of your martini-swilling, Lexus-driving buddies, but don't try to BS those of us who know better.

mike

Posted by: mike | April 29, 2008 10:45 AM

The fact that you blame this on the current administration show how uninformed you are - problems with the barracks date back to the first Bush! And they likely go back farther than that, but I cannot verify.
I stand by my statement. WaPo's reporting did not address overall maintenance requirements and impact of funding decisions (to expect them to do something, however, would require that they actually know something). Perhaps WaPo should have addressed the fact that throwing money into WRAMC would mean money would have to come OUT of another fund. If they had, there would not be any surprise at the state of these barracks - I know I foresaw it a year ago.
I WILL blame the current administration for this (and say that I haven't seen any administration do it differently) - they make major decisions based on knee jerk information put out by people who know nothing (WaPo) and emphasized by people who know less than nothing (angry readers who call their Congressman). Where the heck where you all when the barracks buyout planning was done 10 years ago? Why didn't you insist that you get your taxes raised to replace barracks in 5 years instead of 15?
BTW, I don't drink martinis and I don't know anyone who drives a Lexus.

Posted by: Vermin8 | April 29, 2008 11:44 AM

We should be diverting the billions of dollars we are now spending in Iraq and Afghanistan to rehabilitating our own nation - beginning with our deplorable military facilities.

There is no argument that the Bush administration can make that will rationalize this situation.

Posted by: Ray Porter | April 29, 2008 1:14 PM

It's funny how we "BRAC'd all the facilities, yet have to stick "unexpected" soldiers in substandard housing.

There are a lot of "decommissioned" military facilities where we could have kept the soldiers instead of at Bragg. For example, Ft Devens, MA still has quite a bit of capacity that's in livable condition. Or Bragg could have placed the troops in transient BEQs/hotels.

Obviously, someone was more concerned with his career than speaking up at Bragg.

Posted by: Jimmy | April 29, 2008 4:17 PM

I saw my son off to the sandbox just more than two weeks ago. My short glimpse of Fort Cambell convinced me to post, to this blog, that the Army is really broken. This article is the overall proof.

Three things cause this state of affairs.

1: Contracting out post engineering, DFAC's, and other services. When you contract out, you get slumlords and greasy spoons because the contractor is in it for the profits. Where the Army (and marines, Air Force, Navy, whatever) keep control of those functions, the officers overseeing them have as their first consideration, tghe Troops.

2: Stingy politicians. While those politicians brag about their commitment to the troops, they find too many reasons why they can get by with less appropriations that actually needed. CF the infamous Peers Commission.

#: Collapse of overall moral. In the seventies, an articla in the Infantry Journal titled "Twelve Lessons Gleaned from a Damp Foxhole" Started one section, Left to themselves... soldiers would rather scrounge and build than any other activity."

Good Troops, in good moral, with any real support from Post Engineers ALWAYS work to improve their quarters. Only demoralized troops, or troops who have no reason to expect that their efforts to improve their quarters will be of use to them, allow themselves to live in such slums. They paint their stoops, their company street, their rocks, butt cans, bicycle racks. If it doesn't move and they can't pick it up, they paint it. They do this because their Commanders expect it, they do it because their sergeants tell them to, they do it BECAUSE THIS IS THEIR HOME.

Demoralized Commanders, Sergeants, and troops, when they cease caring, cease improving.

George has taken any hope of home from the entire Army.

THIS is the result.

Posted by: ceflynline@msn.com | April 29, 2008 5:30 PM

These ARE my old barracks. Damn. Looks like the drains in the latrines STILL back up.

I have to agree that this is not a "Bush" issue. This is a Division issue, and a Post issue. These billets are OLD and need a hell of a lot of maintenence and obviously they haven't been getting it.

To give you an idea: we lived in these things in the early 1980's with NCO's who were thrilled because less than ten years before much of the Division was still billeted in 1940's and Fifties wooden barracks in "Old Division" - i.e. they were living in thirty-year-old buildings. This was considered a scandal back in the Seventies, and the Division was moved further down Ardennes Street.

The billets in this video were constructed in the 1960's and 1970's. So the troopers there now are living in forty- and fifty-year-old buildings!! And yet somehow this isn't a scandal., but rather the responsibility of the Washington Post.

WASF

Posted by: FDChief | April 30, 2008 12:15 AM

Maj. Tom Earnhardt, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said that one reason the renovations weren't complete was "because the soldiers in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, came home three weeks ahead of schedule."

Dear MAJ Earnhardt:

Had the soldiers come home three weeks later, what would have been the state of those barracks? Are you trying to tell me that a building that size, in that state of utter disrepair, could have been fit for occupancy in three weeks? Apparently you have never tackled a job like this before, are a liar, or simply a fool. Or perhaps you were expecting divine intervention? If you and your "explanation" is the best our current crop of junior field grade officers have to offer, the condition of the barracks is the least of these soldiers' worries.

Yours very truly,
Al

Phil -
Might I recommend a WaPo followup. Surely an FOIA request can find the paperwork, or lack thereof, pertaining to this building and any scheduled rehab that may or may not have been on the agenda. Please don't let your paper let this drop off the radar screen. If there was a "plan" and actions taken to have the building ready in "three weeks", then let's make sure that credit is given where credit is due. Hell, if there was a plan, it would be offered up willingly. But, if MAJ E is just blowing smoke, then expose him and his superiors for the frauds that they are, bankrolled by our tax dollars and these young soldiers' misery.

Al

Posted by: Aviator47 | April 30, 2008 3:58 AM

FDChief, good point, but keep in mind that the buildings out of which the 82d was moved in the '70s were wood buildings designed for 5 years use - they were 25 years past your useful life. The 50-60 year old buildings they are in now were designed for 50-60 years, so the time frames are not comparable.
Also, this is not in the news but most of the barracks on Bragg are recently constructed or built. That doesn't make the condition in these buildings OK, but it could be the only building on post this way and we don't know how a lot of the disrepair occurred. I have seen a lot of damage caused by soldiers.

Posted by: Vermin8 | April 30, 2008 7:07 AM

Peeling paint, rust and open sewage lines are not something that soldiers cause. Time and lack of maintenance cause these items. I used rehabbed 1941 wooden structures in 1991 that were in fully usable and clean condition. All it would have taken was a quick look by someone who cared to prevent these troops from being placed in this barracks. The pictures show a level of necessary rehab for use that would preclude doing it while inhabited. This is not a "self-help" project. Inexcusable.

Posted by: Aviator47 | April 30, 2008 7:37 AM

It would be good if a picture of the general's office and quarters could be shown. Compare the picture in cost to maintain. Also show the current employment by contractors of officer and civil service family members at the fort to show the full force of the profiteering concurring while the troops langush in a slum.

Posted by: Bill Keller | April 30, 2008 9:43 AM

"but it could be the only building on post this way and we don't know how a lot of the disrepair occurred."

This is a "typical" Ardennes St. barracks: the whole division lived in 'em when I was there. And, as I mentioned, they may have been "designed" for a 50-year life span but they were pretty clapped out when I lived there. Even then they needed a LOT of maintenence to keep them from this sort of decay. I'm not sure why but it may have something to do with a low-bidder deal, but the pipes were always rusting, breaking or backing up, and we had several leaky roofs, as well.

You're right, GIs are hard on billets. But these billets have had a 50-year history of hard use, and they are known for their fragility as well. The fact that the rear detatchment didn't alert anyone to these problems - or, if they did, that no one did anything about them - is a sign of real leadership problems. Let's hope that both Division and Corps are cattle-prodded into staying on top of this.

Posted by: FDChief | April 30, 2008 6:56 PM

The best thing the Democratic Party could do this fall would be to enter Iraqi veterans in as many Congressional and Senate races as possible. This current administration never has supported the troops!

Posted by: jamesxf1 | May 1, 2008 6:54 PM

Wow, I must have lucked out. I lived in barracks on Fort Leonard, Fort Huachuca, Camp Casey (Korea), Fort Monmouth,briefly at Fort Dix, West Point, and K-16 (Korea). At Fort Huachuca and K-16, the barracks I lived in were about 5 years old. Everywhere else was spartan, like any Army barracks, but most everything worked.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 3, 2008 12:06 PM

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