Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Army Facilities in Disrepair

A Washington Post article series over the weekend described "The Other Walter Reed," where overdoses, suicide attempts and depression among outpatients are the parallel narrative to the spit-polish hallways of the renowned hospital. The series described the horrible conditions found in the soldier living areas in the Walter Reed complex that face soldiers in Medical hold after service in OIF/OEF theaters. One building was singled out - Building 18, in particular, symbolizes the indifference and neglect that many of the wounded say they experience at Walter Reed.

The Army reacted in un-characteristic manner and it seems the commandant at Walter Reed said that parts of the building had been repaired and soldiers were working to improve the outside of the building, including removing ice and snow. We are told that Walter Reed and Army officials have been "meeting continuously for three days" since the articles began appearing.

It’s a shame that it takes a major expose by a mainstream newspaper to get that kind of action within the Army. I must admit the articles improved The Washington Post news organizations standing in my book.

Many outside the military are not aware of the sorry state of repair of Military facilities for training, maintaining, providing care, feeding and housing soldiers. The responsibility for maintenance of Military facilities was centralized from Local commanders several years ago to the Installation Management Agency (IMA). IMA has never been adequately funded nor lived up to even its basic responsibility for maintaining adequate facilities for soldiers in the Army. Go to any Military Installation and you will find all manner of substandard facilities with mold, leaky roofs, HVAC issues and other major problems. It is even more shameful that conditions for our most vulnerable soldiers, those wounded in Combat, also reflect the neglect found throughout the Army.

The not so simple issue here is the funding – As a soldier I want good equipment to do the job before any funds are expended for facilities… given the limited resources available it is a tough choice that Army Facilities must make for the dollars. The need for transformation dollars, heavy OPTEMPO and other funding demands will exacerbate the issue even further in the Army which shoulders most of the fight with a disproportionately smaller share of the funding. Most Army soldiers are awed by Air Force facilities when we are allowed to see them…. funding and appropriation to soldier needs seems to be key.

At Walter Reed the Commandant said the medical center has received an outpouring of concern about conditions and procedures since the articles appeared and has taken steps to improve what soldiers and their families describe as a messy battlefield of bureaucratic problems and mistreatment. The remainder of soldiers around the globe will not see a change in their facilities except for the worse if the Army must continue to fund operational needs from facility maintenance dollars. I’d certainly like to see The Washington Post open the story up and take a tour of soldier facilities elsewhere as well… I know there is a story to be told that the recruiting posters hide, and the Army Leadership must avoid given other more pressing needs.

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