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Fort Bragg continues relocating soldiers from mold-infested barracks

About 1,200 service members have been living in substandard housing in the Smoke Bomb Hill area


As of Friday, 120 soldiers have been relocated from barracks with mold contamination in the Smoke Bomb Hill area of Fort Bragg, according to the 18th Airborne Corps.

A total of about 1,200 soldiers are having to be relocated due to mold, aging ventilation systems and outdated buildings, the 18th Airborne Corps said.

As a result of the mold infestation, Army leaders said 29 barracks will be demolished before a rebuild and another five restored. The mold-infested barracks date to the 1970s.

Fort Bragg leaders acknowledge that they knew about the public health concern with the mold. They said they had tried to remediate the problem over time, but that was no longer effective.

Fort Bragg leaders have inspected the rooms and evaluated which ones were unsuitable based on "health, safety and quality of life issues," said Maj. Gen. Brian Mennes, the deputy commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Bragg.

Mennes and other post leaders hosted a media round table to answer questions by phone on the ongoing efforts to relocate the soldiers.

A WRAL-TV report said an inspection in early August revealed mold covering rooms from floor to ceiling, severe water leaks, asbestos, poor ventilation and no air conditioning.

“It really has become unviable from an economic sense of reaching a point of diminishing returns,” Mennes said.

He said soldiers who were found to be living in places that were unsuitable for “health safety or quality of life issues’’ were moved.

Officials said there is a new internal system to better log barracks issues, such as mold, to provide commanders an improved insight on unhealthy and otherwise unsatisfactory living conditions for service members.

This is a systemic problem with the barracks, some Fort Bragg officials have said.

Gen. Edward Daly, who heads up Army Materiel Command, has said the military will change the way inspections are done in the future. Though soldiers have been tasked with the inspections, the military is contemplating the hiring of civilian contractors for the job because service members have little training when it comes to inspections.

“Our soldiers deserve the best resources that we can provide them, as a corps headquarters, as a garrison support, as an Army,” said Command Sgt. Maj. T.J. Holland, the senior enlisted advisor for the 18th Airborne Corps.

“Wherever they may reside – whether it’s on our installation and barracks, with our housing partners in the housing community on Fort Bragg or in our five-county region in the Fayetteville-Spring Lake areas around Fort Bragg – it is our utmost responsibility to make sure they’re clean, safe and responsible,” he added. “That is our responsibility.”

Fort Bragg leaders said the soldiers are being relocated both on post and off-post. Of those, roughly 300 sergeants and junior enlisted members are expected to be relocated to hotels or private housing on post.

The goal is to have all the impacted service members out of the Smoke Bomb Hill barracks by the end of September, Holland said.

“This is a very deliberate process,” he said. “The soldiers found in rooms that we deemed where they were no longer tenable – as far as maintaining for future use – those soldiers are moved immediately. We had empty rooms all over the installation.

“Our goal is for units to consolidate in their footprint to allow the units displacing the soldiers to move as squads,” he said. “We wanted to maintain as much unity and consolidation as possible. So they’re moving as elements, so the leaders move with their soldiers when they move.’’

Army leaders repeatedly stressed, “This has been a whole Army effort” and “This is really a whole Fort Bragg effort.”

“The bottom line in all of this, we really feel grateful from our command to provide us the resources to accelerate the moves, particularly in one of our worst places,” Holland said.

He said this is an opportunity for Fort Bragg to get out of barracks that have been difficult to maintain and have cost the post manpower and resources. 

He said Fort Bragg has traditionally had 4,500 soldiers deployed as part of the Global War on Terror, giving the garrison team time to remediate issues in the barracks.

"That no longer is a luxury for us," Holland said. "We have maxed occupancy on post."

The post is constantly having barracks renovations, he said, including work on 13 of the buildings at this time as part of the installation’s investment plan of the future.

It's not all centered at Smoke Bomb Hill.

Fort Bragg has received 40 work orders regarding mold issues from barracks outside the Smoke Bomb Hill barracks.

Holland said, “We’re not naive to think that every barrack is perfect as those problems surface."

Aaron Brown, the director of the Directorate of Public Works, said as of Friday there were 21 work requests related to mold. He said those are priority issues and are responded to within 24 hours.

Holland said “almost every major command on post’’ has been impacted by mold.

Col. John Wilcox, the Fort Bragg garrison commander, said among the impacted soldiers are those assigned to the 1st Special Forces Command and units under the 18th Airborne Corps, such as the 20th Engineer Brigade, the 35th Corps Signal Brigade and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

“We’re focused on the problem at hand,” Holland said. “And that’s tearing down these old barracks and building new ones.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fort Bragg, barracks, Smoke Bomb Hill area, mold