A bipartisan group of senators representing states with significant military footprints is pressing the Pentagon for an update on junior enlisted barracks and how much money is actually needed for renovations and construction.
The six lawmakers from Georgia, Texas, Florida and North Carolina are pointing to media reports and a damning Government Accountability Office report from September that many troops are forced to live in poor and unsafe conditions. Issues include pest infestations, mold, sewage backups, unsecured doors, shoddy ventilation and, in some cases, cramming too many troops into living quarters.
"At a time when the Department of Defense is rightly working to address serious recruitment and retention issues, reports of poor living conditions serve only to dissuade qualified Americans from considering military service," the senators wrote in a letter last week to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The letter was signed by Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Ted Budd, R-N.C. The six represent states with some of the largest military installations, particularly Army bases, which have been hit especially hard in the media and by troops on social media highlighting quality-of-life issues.
Those locations include North Carolina's Fort Liberty, previously known as Fort Bragg, which is home to the Army's Special Forces and 82nd Airborne Division. Last year, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth dispatched key leaders to inspect barracks there after complaints reached her desk.
A dozen barracks at Fort Liberty were condemned, and roughly 1,100 soldiers were relocated.
Fort Stewart, Georgia, is home to the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and to barracks in some of the most dire conditions. There, soldiers have suffered with mold infestations made worse by broken air conditioners and poor ventilation in the sweltering, humid Georgia heat, as well as little to no barracks maintenance.
At the heart of the issue for the Army is a lack of funding. Service planners are struggling to balance the barracks needs with increasing the Army's capability to fight wars, which requires significant investments in weapons programs and near-constant training events at the Combat Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and elsewhere.
The Army estimates it needs an additional $6.5 billion on top of the slightly more than $1 billion it spends each year on barracks simply to catch up on outstanding maintenance and repair backlogs.
"To put a very serious dent into our backlog, we need to have what we've been calling a 'generational investment' in housing," Wormuth told Military.com in October. "And that's not something that right now we can fit under our relatively flat [budget]."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on X @StevenBeynon.