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. Spc. Loren Dauterman, who trained at Fort McCoy last month with the Wisconsin National Guard, found something good to say about the falling-apart floors and ceilings in his quarters. Barely.
"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 fought 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 In many cases, the wooden, cramped and outdated housing units were scheduled for destruction, but the space and economic constraints from the war in Iraq have again filled the old barracks with soldiers.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 Wednesday 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 the housing situation as a whole is deplorable despite the millions spent over the decades to gut, retrofit and renovate the old structures.