The Army is seeking a massive boost in funds to construct new barracks as moldy and otherwise substandard living conditions for young enlisted soldiers continue to make news headlines.
The Pentagon’s largest service is requesting $288 million to fund barracks construction in 2024, a huge increase from the $49 million set for new construction this year.
The spike could be one of the most dramatic boosts in the Army’s budget request for next year, outpacing growth in weapons programs and training that are all part of the wish list service planners are sending to Congress for lawmakers’ approval.
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“If we want to be an employer of choice and recruit and retain the nation’s best talent, we also need to make significant investments in quality of life,” Gabe Camarillo, the Army undersecretary, told reporters Monday.
The funding for 2024 would be used to build five new barracks: one each at Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts; and two at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Military.com was first to fully detail the scope of the dilapidated conditions of Bragg’s living quarters, as deteriorating living conditions were not properly tracked by senior garrison leaders, leaving base officials scrambling for a response when the issue gained media attention last year.
After Military.com’s reporting on moldy conditions at Fort Bragg and Fort Stewart, Georgia, the service ordered a quality audit of all of its active-duty facilities, which was completed in January, though Army officials have not yet shared those details publicly.
Twelve barracks buildings are set to be demolished at Fort Bragg this year, roughly five years ahead of schedule.
The boost also comes as Army Secretary Christine Wormuth has been openly lobbying for more money and brought the issue up with President Joe Biden in a closed-door meeting last year, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the situation. In total, the Army aims to spend $10 billion on barracks this decade — about $1 billion total each year across the active duty, National Guard and Reserve for construction, repair and sustainment.
A report last year from the Congressional Budget Office found that to fix up just two installations with the greatest need for new barracks — Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Bragg — would cost $11.2 billion.
Even with the budget boost, it will still be an uphill battle for the Army to replace its aging living quarters and effectively maintain the ones it plans to keep.
Service planners have long pointed to a relatively small budget for new barracks and the logistical challenges of housing soldiers during their construction — a process that can take as long as five years — as complicating efforts to improve housing.
This year, the Army finished an $18.8 million project for new barracks at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and wrapped up the bulk of a 10-year, $500 million project building new living quarters and restoring two dozen barracks at Fort Polk, Louisiana, but those projects reflect just a fraction of what officials say the service needs to make housing better for soldiers.
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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