Tag Archives: Soldiers support

Returning Troops Denied Water, Bathrooms Under Quarantine

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Zach VanDyke via AP)

MILITARY TIMES

 “It wasn’t the welcome home that U.S. soldiers expected when they returned from war zones in the Middle East in the past week.

When their planes landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, they were herded into buses, denied water and the use of bathrooms, then quarantined in packed barracks, with little food or access to the outdoors.

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“This is no way to treat Soldiers returning from war,” one soldier told The Associated Press in an email.

The soldiers posted notes on social media about the poor conditions. Their complaints got quick attention from senior Army and Pentagon leaders. Now changes are under way at Fort Bliss and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the first soldiers placed under quarantine also complained of poor, cramped conditions.

Quarantining troops on military bases is becoming a greater challenge for military officials. While continuing missions and training, they also have to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by enforcing two-week quarantines of soldiers who have spent months overseas.

In one of Bragg’s remote training areas, large white tents have popped up over the past few days to house hundreds of 82nd Airborne Division troops returning to the base from Afghanistan and Middle East deployments. The tent city, being called Forward Operating Base Patriot (FOB Patriot), materialized almost overnight, after commanders realized the limits of the barracks when troops began arriving on Saturday.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said senior leaders were looking into soldiers’ complaints and seeking answers from Fort Bliss. Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had heard about the problems and “his response is, we can do better and we need to do better.”

Hoffman said the commander at Fort Bliss has met with all of the quarantined soldiers and “talked through some of their concerns. The spokesman added, “We are going to do better. This is something unusual for all these bases to be handling, and they are doing the best they can.”

In the early days of the quarantine, soldiers at Fort Bliss posted photos on social media showing foam food trays dotted with small piles of peas and rice. On Thursday, in an email statement, Fort Bliss described changes that have been made.

“The dining facility we initially used could not keep pace with demand,” said the statement. “The portions were inadequate, and led to our number one complaint. Fort Bliss leaders saw photos and immediately took action.”

One soldier, in an email to the AP, said when soldiers got off the plane from Afghanistan, they were loaded onto buses and did not get water or permission to use the bathroom for hours.

“We can’t walk down the hall, go outside, or exercise. We finally received drinking water at 0900 this morning,” said the soldier, describing Day Two. “The Army was not prepared, nor equipped to deal with this quarantine instruction and it has been implemented very poorly. ”

The AP is not identifying soldiers who described the conditions, in order to protect their identity so they could speak freely and not worry about potential reprisals.

Fort Bliss said that the food service plan has already increased to give troops three hot meals a day and that soldiers are now getting donated snacks and are allowed to order food and have it delivered to a central location. The troops are also allowed to go outside more and will get more access to gym equipment.

Another soldier at Bliss, who had been deployed to Kuwait, said in a message that the food has gotten better and troops are now allowed to go outside more. But as they begin Day Six there, packages have been held up and there has been no access to laundry facilities.

At Fort Bragg, some of the first soldiers to return on Saturday were sent to rooms in barracks that had been quickly emptied. Soldiers previously living in those rooms were moved to make room.

According to officials, soldiers are being separated into groups that returned from overseas together for the two-week quarantine. But realizing the need for more space, the 82nd Airborne decided on Saturday to build a new facility, and on Monday morning the first tent stakes were being pounded into the ground.

Because the area has been used for training in the past, workers were able to quickly bring in and hook up shower and toilet trailers and set up food tents and other facilities. By Thursday, several hundred troops had already moved in.

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade has been deployed to Afghanistan, and is steadily returning home. Members of the 1st Brigade had gone to Kuwait and Iraq to help bolster security due to threats from Iranian-backed militias. Some members of that group have also come home.

According to Army Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, FOB Patriot will be able to hold as many as 600 soldiers, but numbers have been changing as adjustments are made. He said Maj. Gen. James Mingus wanted to ensure that the returning troops knew “we were proud of what they accomplished and were doing everything we can to take care of them and stop the spread of the virus.”

Of the 1,700 82nd Airborne troops that have returned so far to Bragg, a bit less than half are housed in barracks and at FOB Patriot, and the rest are in quarantine in their homes. As of Friday about 200 were at FOB Patriot.

Anyone who exhibits symptoms of the virus will go into isolation and medical treatment.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/03/20/military-works-to-improve-conditions-for-quarantined-troops/

On 9-11 – How To Increase Civilian Understanding Of Our Military And First Responders

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MILITARY TIMES By Kevin M. Schmiegel and Patrick A. Burke

Addressing the civilian-military/civilian-service divide and ensuring support for our military, first responders, and their families, are critical at this time.

One proven solution to build understanding and increase engagement is the creation of hands-on volunteer opportunities during which civilians can meet our military and first responders in person and learn what they do and what they experience.

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“For 18 years our nation has been at war. In the face of conflict and adversity at home and abroad, brave Americans have volunteered to serve not only in our armed forces but as first responders in thousands of communities across the country. Between them, more than 4.4 million men and women have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and pledged to protect the freedoms and securities we enjoy as Americans.

Since 9/11, however, observers have acknowledged a widening gap of “understanding” between the 2.1 million Americans who serve in our all-volunteer military force and the rest of the population. While our nation’s longest war continues and hundreds of thousands of service members still and will continue to deploy each year, a majority of military families feel increasingly isolated from their communities and disconnected from their civilian counterparts.

Americans are also less personally connected to military service than ever before. According to the Department of Defense, the number of young adults with parents who have served in the military has dropped from 40 percent in 1995 to 15 percent today, and less than 1 percent of the U.S. population currently serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

Unfortunately, a similar “civilian-service divide” is developing between the general public and the 2.3 million police and firefighters who also serve in harm’s way. In the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey issued last fall, the number of Americans age 16 or older who had contact with the police declined from 26 percent to 21 percent in four years, a drop of more than 9 million people. This lack of understanding and positive interaction could also be contributing factors to record-low levels of recruitment for both the military and law enforcement.

Examples of how communities are joining together successfully to share experiences can be seen through recent events in Baltimore on June 1, Philadelphia on July 11, and Nashville on Aug. 17, when hundreds of volunteers stood alongside service families to express gratitude in a tangible way. The battalion chief for the Baltimore County Fire Department said it was “the most incredible thing” he had seen in almost 44 years in fire service. That sentiment was further reinforced by the Baltimore Police Department’s chief of patrol, who pointed out officers “needed the community … to help solve issues.”

Fittingly, a similar large-scale service project took place in New York City on Sept. 5 with the production of more than 10,000 signature Operation Gratitude Care Packages and Care Pouches. During the week of Sept. 11, volunteers will deliver those packages to deployed service members around the world and to first responders who responded to the Pentagon attack 18 years ago. These interpersonal activities will help close the gap between those who serve and those who are served and provide avenues to express mutual respect and appreciation.

With the deaths of 15 service members in Afghanistan and 118 police and firefighter fatalities here at home so far in 2019, communities in our country yearn for opportunities to recognize and thank all who serve in uniform. Hands-on volunteerism is the most effective way for American citizens to engage with our military and first responders, forge strong bonds and build sustainable relationships that ultimately will strengthen their communities, as well as strengthen the resolve of the brave men and women who serve and protect them.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2019/09/10/how-to-bridge-the-divide-between-civilians-and-the-military-first-responders/

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Kevin M. Schmiegel is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who now serves as the chief executive officer of Operation Gratitude, a national 501c3 nonprofit.

The Honorable Patrick A. Burke is the former United States marshal and assistant chief of police for the District of Columbia, and now serves as the executive director of the Washington D.C. Police Foundation

Widespread Inspector General Concerns With Army Privatized Housing

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At a home in the Bouton Heights community at Fort Benning, Ga., maintenance workers taped over this vent; they’ve cleaned it but mold keeps coming back. (Photo courtesy of Nikki Whittington)

ARMY TIMES

The review was ordered on Feb. 13 by then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, in the wake of reports about widespread problems of mold, water leakage, vermin infestations and other problems in military housing. 

Military spouses testified before lawmakers about their problems and frustrations with their houses.

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“Families’ concerns about health and safety issues in their privatized military housing are widespread, according to a new Army Inspector General report that reveals systemic problems with the companies’ responses to families, and with the Army’s oversight of the projects.

The government’s current oversight of these projects was insufficient to identify the current housing challenges, inspectors found. There are problems with lack of authority, confusion regarding roles and responsibilities, lack of training, dramatic personnel cuts, and lack of transparency among privatized housing companies. The majority of base officials acknowledged their installation had an ineffective oversight program.

Among other things, inspectors uncovered a 2013 Army policy that specifically prohibited health and welfare inspections of privatized housing — because of budget cuts that resulted in fewer housing personnel.

Two-thirds of the 1,180 residents across the Army’s privatized housing communities who participated in an IG survey conducted as part of their review stated they are dissatisfied with their overall privatized housing experience. Also, 64 percent said they would move off post if there were no financial costs or concerns, according to the report.

At 48 of the 49 Army locations with privatized housing, residents expressed concerns with safety or environmental issues and some level of dissatisfaction with their privatized housing experience, according to the IG report. Of those who participated in the survey, 52 percent had environmental concerns with their housing. Top environmental concerns were mold, lead-based paint, asbestos, water quality, open sewage and radon gas. Residents reported problems with maintenance and the work order process; lack of communication and lack of transparency from the property management companies.

The inspectors found that life, health and safety items aren’t part of the current Army housing inspection requirement. And while numerous families have reported these concerns, the property management companies self-report, and didn’t recognize any life, health or safety concerns before this IG review, according to the report. Inspectors recommend these requirements be rewritten to include life, health and safety items.

Inspectors conducted 116 “sensing sessions” with residents at all 49 Army locations with privatized housing — 41 in the continental U.S., six in Hawaii and two in Alaska. They conducted 227 interviews of officials, including senior leaders at each installation, government housing personnel and private company property management personnel.

Families perceived the companies cared more about cost saving than on the quality of work and resident satisfaction, according to the report.

The inspectors found that the deals between the Army and the privatized housing companies present “unique challenges” to the Army — in particular, the deals favor the corporations.

“We are not surprised by the findings. We are grateful for this report. It validates the experiences of the brave military families who have spoken up for change,” said Shannon Razsadin, executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, which conducted an online survey in early February of military families in all branches of service about their experience with privatized housing. More than half of 14,558 military families living in privatized housing reported a negative experience.

“There is a remarkable overlap between the Army IG report and MFAN’s research,” Razsadin said. She noted that the Army IG report points out that the companies’ housing satisfaction surveys didn’t look at health, safety and environmental concerns, a major issue MFAN learned about through its research.

“There is still a disconnect between what the housing companies are reporting, and now what MFAN and the Army IG have found, which must be addressed through a revamped evaluation process,” she said. The Army IG recommended a quarterly customer satisfaction mechanisms managed by the Army, to be used to support any incentives paid to the companies. Another is to develop a forum for residents to participate in the process for determining the incentive payments.

The IG’s finding of major shortcomings in the Army’s oversight explains some of the problems families have had in getting support from installation officials. At 48 of the 49 locations where there are privatized housing projects, garrison commanders, Directorate of Public Works directors and Army housing directors didn’t have detailed working knowledge of Army regulations and policy concerning the projects, or the business agreements for their specific location.

Senior commanders expressed concerns that they weren’t part of the decision-making process, and oversight of quality assurance, customer satisfaction, incentive fee awards and major decision approval authorities.

Indeed, inspectors found there are no details in Army housing regulations about senior commanders’ roles and authorities regarding privatized housing. And there’s no guidance to garrison housing offices or commands on how to perform and oversee the quality assurance. Installation housing offices weren’t able to validate the companies’ performance.

The IG recommends that Army officials conduct a manpower assessment to validate housing office personnel shortfalls. At 47 of 49 locations, officials reported insufficient staffing.

The Army is already addressing most of the 20 recommendations in the IG report, according to a statement issued by Army officials. They’ve added 114 additional employees to various installation housing staffs; established classes to educate senior commanders and garrison commanders about privatized housing and their roles; established 24-hour-a-day telephone hotlines at all installations;, and are using property-management portals to allow residents to track work-order histories and maintenance issues. The Army is working with the other branches of service and DoD to develop a joint tenant bill of rights.

Officials are also revising the handbook to refine the roles and responsibilities of senior commanders, rewriting report templates, reviewing business agreements with privatized housing companies and reworking company incentive-fee structures.

“We continue to drive change and remain steadfast in holding ourselves and privatized housing companies accountable to provide safe and secure housing on our installations,” said Gen. Gus Perna, commanding general of Army Materiel Command, in the Army’s statement.

In the past decade, the Army’s severe budget reductions have forced cuts in the government workers in housing offices on installations. To manage that risk, inspectors noted, the Army issued a policy that removed much of the garrison commanders’ authority and oversight responsibility for privatized housing. That 2013 policy specifically prohibited health and welfare inspections of privatized housing. It also removed the garrison commander from the eviction process and restricted them from influencing the housing assignment processes.

Other IG findings:

  • At seven locations, residents voiced a perception of retribution for complaints about housing issues, such as additional move-out fees, fines due to yard maintenance or other discrepancies, and threats to call or involve the chain of command. Each resident was given the opportunity to speak with the inspectors privately at the conclusion of their session. The information was then referred to local installation/command inspector general for action, and to the Army Inspector General Assistance Division for situational awareness.
  • 64 percent of residents surveyed said their property manager isn’t responsive in solving their housing needs.
  • 76 percent are dissatisfied with communications from the property manager regarding potential hazards in the home.
  • About a third — 36 percent — indicated some level of satisfaction with the quality and service provided by the property manager.
  • Residents at 48 of 49 locations expressed some level of dissatisfaction with aspects of maintenance performed on housing, including problems with timeliness and the overall quality of the maintenance work.
  • 74 percent are dissatisfied with follow-up by the property managers to ensure issues are resolved.
  • At most locations, residents didn’t know how to escalate their issue either with the company or the Army housing office.
  • At 45 of 49 locations, residents expressed concerns about the professionalism of the maintenance staff.
  • Residents often said the company was more stringent during the move out inspections, where fees were incurred, than during the move-in inspection.
  • Residents are concerned that company-provided customer satisfaction data conflicted with actual resident experiences. The data provided by the company generally displayed higher levels of resident satisfaction.
  • The companies weren’t fully forthcoming with information, and the Army didn’t aggressively pursue the information. When the company doesn’t fully disclose information, it hurts the Army’s ability to validate reports such as work order metrics and incentive payment metrics, inspectors stated..”

https://www.armytimes.com/2019/09/05/army-ig-finds-widespread-concerns-with-privatized-housing-and-lack-of-oversight/

State And Federal On-Line Government Partnership Supporting Service Members And Veterans

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“The National Resource Directory (NRD) is a resource website that connects wounded warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers to programs and services that support them.”

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“NRD provides access to services and resources at the national, state and local levels to support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. Visitors can find information on a variety of topics that supply an abundance of vetted resources. For help finding resources on the site, visit the How to Use this Site section of the NRD. Please see below for some of our major categories.

https://nrd.gov/