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Effort to move soldiers from problem barracks continues, Fort Bragg leaders say


Pfc. Austin Robertson is moving this weekend, from a barracks room on Fort Bragg’s Smoke Bomb Hill to a room across the post.

The Wilkesboro native is among the more than 1,100 soldiers who will relocate from barracks determined to be detrimental to their health because of mold and other maintenance issues.

Fort Bragg officials on Thursday met with reporters on the site of one of the barracks that has been vacated due to mold.

Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, the 18th Airborne Corps deputy commanding general and acting senior mission commander, said the review of housing for soldiers is an ongoing process. He said Fort Bragg has 40,000 soldiers living on and off post, and some of the post’s housing is difficult to adequately maintain because of age.

Mennes said the Army is providing a variety of resources for soldiers who are relocating, from relocation allowances to finding permanent hotel accommodations for another 55 soldiers. Mennes said the soldiers will not be required to return to any of the refurbished barracks after setting up their new homes. He said new arrivals will fill those refurbished buildings.

“The cycle of refurbishing is ongoing as buildings age out,” he said.

Often, there are 12 to 15 barracks post-wide that could be offline for refurbishing. Soldiers who report problems with water, air conditioning and mold are responded to in 24 hours, he said.

Lt. Col. Teresa Pearce, director of public health, said no illnesses have been reported because of the mold. “No one so far has come forward, but if someone does, they will be treated,” Pearce said.

Mennes was accompanied by Col. John Wilcox, the garrison commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Loehr, the garrison senior enlisted advisor; Lt. Col. Johnathan Klink, the 18th Airborne Corps engineer; Brian Adkins, the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security director; Aaron Brown, the Directorate of Public works director; and Steve Wykel, the Fort Bragg housing supervisor. Each of those subject matter experts augmented Mennes’ answers to the media.

In early August, Fort Bragg officials inspected the Smoke Bomb Hill barracks after complaints of mold and other issues surfaced. Fort Bragg announced it would relocate more than 1,100 soldiers because of what it termed “substandard” living conditions in the barracks built in the mid-1970s.

Fort Bragg officials say the barracks no longer meet today’s heating, cooling and ventilation standards. According to a Fort Bragg release, “Continuous repairs and changes to the air flow created higher than normal moisture levels and presented a quality of life concern for soldiers residing in these facilities.”

About 800 of the 1,100 soldiers who will eventually vacate Smoke Bomb Hill will move to other on-post barracks. Wilcox said Fort Bragg will try to keep unit cohesion intact when soldiers relocate.

Fort Bragg commanders who “own” the soldiers and those who “own” the facilities are working together to ensure spaces are made available for those who need to relocate, Wilcox said.

Robertson said his greatest issue with his previous room was that the air conditioning often did not work, making the room uncomfortable. He said he gave “five stars” to his new room in the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade barracks. The new rooms are actually in an older building but have been refurbished to meet the updated standards.

Mennes said Robertson was “spot on” about the air-conditioning issue. It would get fixed and everyone would be euphoric, and then it would break down again, he said.

The two-person rooms share a bathroom with a tub and shower, a kitchen with a two-burner oven, refrigerator, and a hand sink. The rooms then split into two bedrooms at the end of the unit. In some rooms, work orders were pasted in areas that required maintenance officials to make minor repairs.

At the end of the main hallway leading to the exit, a wall poster urges soldiers to report issues with their living quarters. The poster includes a QR code that allows a soldier to scan the poster with a smartphone to connect and report the issue.

Robertson said his sergeant gave him Friday and the weekend to move. He said moving is not that difficult since none of the soldiers leaving the Smoke Bomb Hill barracks need to move appliances, which are already available in their new rooms. He said most soldiers have a trunk and some personal items, and if they have a car, it’s not a major project to move.

In a release earlier this week, Fort Bragg officials said the goal is to have all soldiers out of the Smoke Bomb Hill barracks by the end of September.

Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at jbrady@cityviewnc.com.

Fort Bragg, Smoke Bomb Hill barracks, soldiers, mold, maintenance issues