Garrison CSM: Barracks renovations scheduled over the next 2 years

As many may be aware, the Army has a housing crisis. When the Army privatized accompanied housing, it took away the requirement for chains of command to visit their Soldiers and check on their living conditions. Over the last three months, that has all changed and now, a Service member’s leadership, along with Garrison, are proactively involved in the conditions our Service members’ families live in. Since then, questions have arisen, including what about the single Soldiers and who’s focusing on barracks.

Similar to Army privatized housing; the Army is having issues with unaccompanied housing, or the barracks. Leaders are in the barracks now more than ever and issues are handled promptly.

I must start off by saying we are fortunate here at Fort Belvoir, when it comes to barracks. Yes, we’ve had problems with mold and living conditions in the past, but those issues are few and far between nowadays. To understand where we are today, people need an understanding of the history of unaccompanied housing management.

Changes to barracks management

From the late 1990s into early 2000, with the focus on single Soldiers’ quality of life and privacy, there was less and less leader interaction with Soldiers living in the barracks. This was compounded with the Global War on Terrorism and the units’ focus on training and deployments. The second- and third-order effects were a lack of leader presence in the barracks and resolution of needed repairs.

Before 2008, military units managed the barracks separately from garrison or other units. This led to underuse and a lack of a consistency in managing barracks. In 2012, Army headquarters created the First Sergeants Barracks Program 2020, or FSBP. It took the responsibility of the unit and centralized barracks management (assignments, terminations, inspections, etc.) under garrison housing professionals. Although this allowed units to focus on mission requirements and reduced the number of certificates of non-availability, saving the Army money, it also had some unintended consequences.

The biggest consequence, just like privatized housing, was the lack of leadership involvement in the barracks. This resulted in degraded living conditions and repair work not being reported. Since units did not own the barracks, they felt there was no requirement from them to be in the barracks. Some were even operating under the assumption they were not allowed to do inspections in the barracks and must respect their Soldiers’ privacy.

This was not the intent of FSBP. With the lack of leader presence, barracks aging faster than they can be maintained and limited resources, the quality of our barracks significantly decreased.

As a result, in May 2018, the Army rescinded FSBP and issued a replacement executive order, establishing the Army Barracks Management Program The program’s purpose is to get back to unit ownership at the lowest command level, with the help of garrison personnel. The primary difference between these programs is that ABMP assigns responsibility for permanent party barracks management to the company or equivalent level, whereas the FSBP authorized barracks management at the brigade or equivalent level, but put a majority of the requirements of day-to-day management on garrison unaccompanied housing management offices. We continue to educate all units on the day-to-day management of unaccompanied housing.

Renovations will take 2 years

Fort Belvoir has eight barracks buildings, six of which were built in 1974 and require a lot of attention. The other two were built in 2012, when the Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion was activated.

Although we have an aging fleet of barracks, we are in the process of a multi-million dollar restoration project for four of our oldest barracks to ensure our Service members are living in the best conditions. The project will take about two years and will not reduce the barracks capacity or space.

Our current barracks offer approximately 165 square feet, per two-person room. After renovations, each unit will have a four-room suite with a common kitchen, living room and dining area. This is key, as Fort Belvoir doesn’t have a dining facility. My hope is that the kitchen will encourage healthy eating habits and keep Service members away from fast food options. Soldiers will also have a private sleeping space, bathroom, shower, and a shared, stackable washer and dryer in each room.

Another barracks issue was mold. In the older buildings, a lot of moisture was introduced through the HVAC system, causing conditions that encouraged mold growth, if precautions were not taken. This has been remedied with taking centralized units offline and putting individual wall units in each room, allowing moisture to evaporate before cold air is introduced into the rooms; and allowing for easy repairs. This remedy will also be present in the barracks restoration project.

We all come from different backgrounds and you cannot assume everyone has the same cleanliness standards as the Army. Despite the unaccompanied housing management program being implemented, the only way to ensure our Soldiers are living in a healthy and safe environment is for leaders at all echelons to get into the barracks and see how their Service members are living. Teach them how to maintain a clean, safe, and healthy environment and then hold them accountable.