By now the extent of military housing problems are making their way on Facebook, and people are outraged. Black mold, untreated sewage, rats, bats, and the like have plagued military housing for years, and now the problems are in full media view. The CNO recently charged all commands with talking to their Sailors about their housing. That’s a good start, since it will help ensure people aren’t suffering in silence.
But the recent Congressional hearings with the personnel chiefs of each service were a joke.
“Three-star personnel chiefs and senior non-commissioned officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps testified Wednesday that unsafe and sometimes scandalous conditions of base housing units, which has sparked waves of complaints from military families, can largely be blamed on leadership failures.”From Stars and Stripes
Reading further, the chiefs blame local leadership for the housing problems. As in, the commanding officers of destroyers, cruisers, shore facilities and the like are to blame.
“It feels like the military leadership sort of washed their hands of any oversight of the private contractors that built and managed these family housing units,” she said. “They essentially left it to the private contractors completely with no oversight. That’s not what Congress would have intended.”Congressional comment, from Military Times
The military places a lot of trust in Commanding Officers and holds them accountable for the safety and well-being of their assigned personnel. The Navy in particular has no problem firing COs that fail at the job. But housing isn’t something in a COs wheel house, and by saying it is “a leadership failure,” the personnel chiefs and the services in general are shirking all their responsibility.
Military housing was declining in the 1990s, so privatizing housing gave an initial fix that was pretty decent. I’ve stayed at housing in both Army and Navy bases, and overall it was pretty good. As old housing was scrapped, new housing was built, and it was significantly better than when the military ran housing.
During this time, there was a massive surge in housing-related employment. More and more local civilians were hired to help manage housing. Unfortunately, this bureaucracy began to care more about itself than its customers. Because military members tend to move every 2-4 years, local civilians could simply wait out any problems.
I noticed this in Hawaii. The locals that ran the housing office attempted to change the rules on how electricity was charged. When I did the math and noticed it was a sham, I called them on it, as did others. They didn’t execute, but simply waited until I left. Again, they have the long term view, while I’m just passing through. Combined with blatant racism (I got called my share of derogatory names by housing personnel), military members in Hawaii don’t stand a chance against the bureaucracy.
This is how you can get people that don’t care about black mold and rats. They know military members will move on. For junior personnel, they can sometimes scare them into shutting up. For others, they simply use long, bureaucratic processes to wear you down. How much time does a ship’s CO have to sit and wait to see a housing person (heck, how much time do you have)? Even if you do wait in line, and you get a “promise” to change, you’ll have to wait. By then, you might deploy, or leave. The bureaucracy waits you out, even if you do care.
So let’s chalk this up to leadership failure, but in a different way. It was a failure by our regional installation commands to check up and ensure housing contracts were being executed correctly. It’s a failure that these commands wrote bad contracts that allowed these conditions to persist. It’s a failure by these same commands to continue employing personnel that don’t care and were content to cover up problems. The fact that none of these people are being fired is a sham, and the personnel chiefs and local Congressional representatives should be ashamed of themselves.
Just like the Veteran’s Administration, there are a lot of people saying strong words right now, but there is a cowardly lack of an appetite to fire people that are actually responsible. Right now our leadership is content to piss all over the military members below them. Whether it is allowing remains to rot in a morgue or tolerating black mold that kills our children, military and Congressional leadership at the highest level remain content to blame those below them while failing to hold corrupt organizations to task. That is sickening. If we don’t start rooting out the systemic rot in the housing organization, those same corrupt bureaucracies will simply wait our military members out again.
This post represents the views and anger of the author, and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.