Army Secretary Says She Wouldn't Want Her Daughters Living in Some Army Barracks

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Christine Wormuth tours the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth tours the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center with Army Assistant secretary for acquistion, logistics and technology, Doug Bush, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Lima, Ohio. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers Wednesday that a chunk of the service's barracks are seemingly unlivable as senior leaders grapple with living conditions for the rank and file and a relatively small budget to quickly improve standards.

"I've seen some barracks quite frankly I wouldn't want my daughters to live in," Wormuth said at a House hearing on the Army's budget.

Wormuth has made soldier quality-of-life issues a key component of her tenure, and troops have reported significant gains in areas directly under her control, such as improved parental leave policies that are more generous than those offered by the other services. But the Army has struggled to keep up with renovating its barracks and building new ones to replace living quarters infested with mold and suffering from aging infrastructure.

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The Army plans to spend $1 billion per year this decade on construction and renovation. But that is seemingly not enough funding, with a report from the Congressional Budget Office estimating it would cost $11.2 billion to fix up barracks at just two installations: Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Those two bases have enlisted living quarters that have been the hardest hit with mold issues.

Mold problems have been at the center of the Army's barracks issues. Last month, the service conducted a service-wide inspection, finding 2,100 of its facilities have some degree of mold infestation, mostly concentrated in humid climates such as the South and Hawaii. Many of those barracks were poorly constructed, have shoddy ventilation and have half-century-old air conditioning units that are prone to leaking.

That inspection of active-duty facilities was spurred after Military.com's reporting on moldy barracks at Fort Bragg and Fort Stewart, Georgia. At Fort Bragg, home of the Army's airborne and Special Forces, roughly 1,000 soldiers were moved to different barracks or given a housing allowance to live off base.

Leaders there said they had a hard time tracking the scope of the mold issue, and moving those soldiers came after scrutiny from Army senior leaders and the media. Military.com's investigation at Fort Stewart found barracks walls there coated in black mold and service member's gear sometimes destroyed by mold growth spreading to bags and other equipment.

Base officials said they have no plan to relocate those troops. After Military.com's reporting, plans for new barracks were developed, but construction won't be complete until 2027. Constructing new barracks can take half a decade due to a combination of funding and labor issues, as well as red tape that can cause delays.

Soldiers have told Military.com that maintenance teams from the Department of Public Works are often slow to respond and are poorly trained in mold remediation and mitigation. In some instances, maintenance workers just paint over mold. Wormuth also told lawmakers that the service has had a hard time hiring maintenance workers. Those jobs are relatively low paid, with workers earning between $35,000 and $45,000 per year, according to numerous job postings reviewed by Military.com.

The Army is in the midst of a historic recruiting crisis, coming up 15,000 soldiers short of its goal last year of bringing in 60,000 new troops. The service has an even more ambitious goal this year of 65,000 new soldiers. Army leaders say that most of that uphill battle filling in the ranks is attributable to the general population of young Americans being too overweight to serve or unable to pass the military's academic entrance exam, though senior leaders, including Wormuth, have also suggested that news coverage of issues in the service has put a dent into its pitch to Gen Z.

"I want parents to know that their kids are going to have good accommodations," Wormuth told lawmakers.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Mold Is Consuming Fort Stewart's Barracks as a Pattern Emerges Across the Army

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