The top enlisted leader of the Marine Corps wants to be in the bulldozer that knocks down the first "crappy" barracks that Marines live in.
Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, who took the mantle of top enlisted leader of the Marine Corps over five months ago, said Monday that having quality barracks for Marines is "basic human rights." He also said that Marines are responsible for keeping clean the spaces they currently have as the Corps works to replace and refurbish housing.
The effort, according to Ruiz, is called Barracks 2030 and is meant to get the roughly 17,000 Marines -- as of March -- out of substandard living conditions and into proper quarters. When that may happen is still a question, to include one of funding, but the commandant of the Marine Corps previously estimated that it could take a decade to fix the problem.
"It is basic human rights. It is dignity. It is a home," Ruiz said Monday on the Moments in Leadership podcast, a program that interviews senior leaders in the military, to include the former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black. "So, we don't blink an eye to buy things and platforms. It's time not to blink an eye and invest in our people."
Ruiz's appearance on the podcast, which was about an hour and a half, touched on several topics, to include quality-of-life efforts that the Marine Corps is grappling with, recruiting and social media use by military leaders.
It also comes ahead of his planned testimony in front of Congress' quality-of-life panel hearing Jan. 31, and as images of squalid Marine Corps facilities surface online. At the House hearing, senior leaders across the military will provide testimony and answer questions on housing, pay, dining facilities and several other issues that affect service members and their families.
What is likely to be talked about is how these quality-of-life issues, which include many service members living in moldy and dirty conditions, affect recruiting, a problem that -- outside of the Marine Corps and Space Force -- the military services are failing to meet.
"There was a promise that is made -- is being made this morning -- when the recruiter's telling a young applicant or their parents, 'Look, we got you," he said. "When they get in here, we have a place to sleep and it's going to be safe and they'll be rested to execute a live-fire range the next day or fix the F-35 engine, or whatever it is."
Ruiz said that quality of life is a top-three priority for the commandant, and that the Marine Corps will ask for more funding to refurbish an additional 13 barracks. He also said that the focus should be on refurbishment of viable barracks and building of new ones. Barracks that are decades old should be demolished.
"That crappy barracks that are here today, we got to knock them down," Ruiz said. "We're spending money on keeping those barracks up when we should be knocking them down and refurbishing new ones."
The conversation also gave insight into how the upper echelons of the Corps are looking at the barracks problem, and what happens when those problems make their way to public eyes. Services like the Army drew ire when one Army general said, "I don't have a mold problem, I have a discipline problem" at a symposium last fall.
"I saw pictures come out of a location where the barracks is not like it needs to be," Ruiz said. "Marines take pictures and then they send it somewhere and then it gets picked up by somebody. And then it's a story.
"When I look at the barracks in that specific situation where the pictures did not deem it livable, when I look at it through my lens of a sergeant major's eyeballs, that's not a barracks that's falling apart. That's an unkept barracks," he continued. "That is a barracks that Marines walk by and walk through their spaces who refuse to take a broom and a mop and clean that barracks up."
While the top enlisted leader did not reference it specifically, Military.com recently reported on barracks at Camp Pendleton, California, that had dead vermin, grime and overflowing washing machines. The images were originally posted on social media, and one Marine described to Military.com that the conditions were "festering" and "stagnant."
"There's a difference there of professionalism and conduct," Ruiz said, "but when the windows are always broken, then maybe you don't pick up anything because everything else looks like crap."
When asked how leaders can address the skepticism that Marines have in terms of barracks fixes, Ruiz said, "It's undefendable.
"I am not in the business of defending the institution when we're wrong," he said. "When the institution has an issue that's not defendable, then don't defend it. Instead, it has been in my brain for a long time that you push the institution forward."