As new images of dismal conditions at a Marine Corps facility appeared online in recent days -- dead vermin, flooded washers, apparent mold -- the service has approved several short-term quality-of-life fixes for Marines across the fleet, according to an internal document reviewed by Military.com.
The latest quality-of-life efforts mainly focus on oversight and management of on-post housing, and were marked as "near-term" initiatives in a memo briefed to the acting commandant of the Marine Corps and deputy commandants in November. They include removing barracks responsibilities from noncommissioned officers and line units typically in charge of housing management and putting them into the hands of government employees and installation commanders who are at higher echelons.
The document also outlined approved efforts to add "resident advisors" -- similar to those in college dorms -- to the barracks, as well as replacing furniture and door locks and improving dedicated maintenance teams to respond to immediate issues that many Marines may face when residing in decades-old barracks.
The changes, which are expected to hit the Marine Corps within the next year or two, according to the document, come as images obtained by Military.com show decrepit living conditions at a Marine Corps facility in California, including dead vermin, grime, laundry machines overflowing with water, and general dilapidation.
The images of squalid quarters come from Camp Pendleton, California -- specifically the School of Infantry-West, Lima Company.
In advance of a visit by a senior leader after the issues were discovered, Marines began to pressure-wash grime out of the facility and paint over graffiti, among other tasks, one Marine told Military.com.
The internal memo obtained by Military.com did not specifically mention mold, water issues or insect infestations, which were a key part of a Government Accountability Office report in September that aimed public attention at the poor conditions in military housing. Marine Corps Times first reported the images of squalid quarters at Camp Pendleton, which were originally posted on social media and Hots & Cots, an app where troops can post reviews of base conditions.
One Marine, who said they were living at the facility, told Military.com that some issues were "festering" and "stagnant." After the detritus was discovered and in preparation for a senior leader visit, Marines were made to paint the walls of the squad bay; empty used physical training gear from laundry machines; scrub down washers and dryers; repair drywall; remove "moldy" water from showers; and paint over graffiti and walls, the Marine said.
Last month, Military.com first reported on a video of apparent mold in a facility at an East Coast base that -- along with the School of Infantry-West conditions -- also fell under the Corps' Training and Education Command.
Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, the commanding general of Training and Education Command, is scheduled to visit the Camp Pendleton facility next week.
"The health and safety of our Marines is of the highest priority. U.S. Marine Corps Training and Education Command adheres to Department of Defense and Marine Corps standards for scheduled maintenance and updates to all our facilities," Maj. Joshua Pena, a spokesperson for the command, told Military.com on Friday. "Though the date and locations of all photos cannot be confirmed, there is no excuse for the conditions depicted."
Pena added that leadership did a walk-through of the Pendleton facilities that "did reveal the need for some remediation, to include additional cleaning of hygiene facilities and the input of additional maintenance requests, which have been remediated within 24 hours."
He said that School of Infantry-West takes full responsibility for the building and confirmed that Iiams will visit the school next week. He encouraged Marines to report "discrepancies with facilities" and acts of vandalism to leadership.
The conditions and improvement plans also come after the damning GAO report, which detailed horrid living conditions across the Defense Department and said that 17,000 Marines lived in substandard housing as of March.
That's compared to about 5,000 sailors, though the other services did not track their own troops' housing conditions comprehensively, according to the report. The Army, for example, has been under fire for its substandard living conditions for years.
Common roadblocks to fixing issues -- like broken pipes and mold -- in barracks across the military are a lack of resources and the timely fulfillment of maintenance requests, according to the GAO report. The Marine Corps hopes to reduce delays in housing issues and requested maintenance being addressed.
"To maintain the quality of the barracks between major renovations, a dedicated maintenance concept was proposed. The concept is like how hotels operate and renovate their facilities," the internal Marine Corps memo obtained by Military.com said. "On-site personnel provides the ability to handle minor maintenance issues such as clogged bathroom fixtures, broken fans, or inoperative equipment to solve problems within days vice weeks or months."
The memo said that those dedicated maintenance teams will conduct renovations every year, instead of every 15 to 20 years, to fix a facility's underlying issues. However, the document noted that current funds allocated to the efforts, which hover around $300 million per year, are "insufficient."
It proposed $1.5 billion over the span of three years to improve facilities.
Plans to provide corporals and sergeants their own rooms in the barracks "when inventory is available" are also on the table, according to the document.
Initial steps to address the issues also appear to involve oversight and professionalizing barracks management -- instead of leaving that responsibility to junior noncommissioned officers or corporals who may not have the training or time serving in a unit to take up the task.
"I don't want to put a corporal or a sergeant who's not a barracks manager in charge of that barracks," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith told reporters in October. "That's how you fix the public works -- with a professional to a professional."
The memo said the plan is to replace the 532 noncommissioned officer barracks managers with 115 government personnel and 232 contractors. Those "professional barracks managers" will report to the installation commander, typically a general, it said.
That move is "a departure from current policy that assigns barracks to specific units" at lower echelons, which may not have the direct authority or weight to move resources to problems as quickly as higher units, the memo said.
Still, the memo also recognized the need for leader oversight at the barracks level. At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, the base underwent a pilot program where "resident advisors" were assigned to barracks, "like a college RA program."
A spokesperson for Marine Corps Installation Command said that those responsibilities, which will not be like those of previous barracks managers, include "keep[ing] distractions in facilities to a minimum, ensur[ing] Marines take care of where they live, and advocat[ing] for Marines to make sure their living spaces meet Department of Defense and Marine Corps standards."
"The Marine Corps Air Station pilot Resident Advisor Program authorized eight staff noncommissioned officers to move into the barracks with noncommissioned officers and below for the purpose of advocacy, mentorship, and the maintenance of good order and discipline for all residents," Maj. John Parry, a spokesperson for the command, told Military.com. "Resident advisors support the transition of Marines from dependency to independence, much as a college student undergoes the same transition."
Parry said that the pilot has reduced misconduct, noise, distractions and "bad neighbor behavior" in the barracks. He also said that, by bringing in on-call contractors for the station's pilot maintenance program, the installation has "reduced response times for maintenance requests from more than a month to just days."
Other approved plans include repairing and replacing all inoperative door locks immediately, and procuring furniture, washers and dryers -- "when funding is made available," the Marine Corps memo said.
Smith told reporters in October that long-term facility improvements could take a decade. Mid- and long-term plans in the internal memo were marked "deferred" and "tabled" until other analyses could be made.
"Taking care of Marines is a warfighting function. Otherwise, they cannot focus on the mission at hand," Smith said in a statement to Military.com via spokesperson Thursday. "Barracks, chow halls, and gyms are key to retaining Marines, and investments in quality-of-life initiatives are truly warfighting needs."