Spc. Loren Dauterman, who trained at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin last month with the National Guard, found something good to say about the falling-apart floors and ceilings in her quarters.
"It is better than sleeping out in the woods," Dauterman said last week, "but not a whole lot better."
Thousands of soldiers at Fort McCoy, Fort Campbell and elsewhere are assigned to barracks built for the GIs who fought World War II and the Korean War. The buildings are showing their age, and the soldiers are getting fed up.
After a soldier's father posted a video on YouTube last month showing the dilapidated barracks for paratroopers at Fort Bragg, N.C., Defense Secretary Robert Gates called those conditions appalling and ordered base commanders to ensure their troops have proper quarters.
The commanders have their work cut out for them.
A spot check by Associated Press reporters over the past week found many barracks plagued by recurring problems with mold, mildew and their plumbing and wiring.
In many cases, the cramped, wooden units were scheduled for destruction, but Army leaders facing space and economic constraints from the war in Iraq have again filled the old barracks. Major installations like Fort Campbell and Fort Stewart, Ga., report pumping more than $100 million into barracks improvements in recent years to make room for the flood of recruits and brigades.
148,000 rooms inspected
Army Secretary Pete Geren said Wednesday at Fort Bragg that the Army has appropriated $248 million in emergency funds to fix problems found during inspections of 148,000 rooms at bases worldwide over the past two weeks.
"We ordered a look at literally every single room," Geren said. "We didn't find any looming danger to their health and safety."
Still, military leaders concede the housing situation as a whole is deplorable despite the millions spent over the decades to gut, retrofit and renovate the old structures.
In 1994, the Army launched a barracks modernization program to replace all its oldest housing. The plan was to be completed this year, but that has been postponed to 2013 because of other needs, including a multiyear redesign of the way Army brigades — the main fighting units — are equipped and organized for war.
At Fort Stewart, the combination of a new combat brigade and ongoing construction has some soldiers sleeping and eating in large trailers until new barracks are built.
Brig. Gen. Dennis Rogers, who is responsible for maintaining Army housing, said last week that besides poor physical condition, the old barracks offer too little privacy to meet the expectations of today's younger generation.
It was a frequent complaint from soldiers who talked to the AP, including Spc. Kaila Colvin, who said she's looking forward to getting married in part because she won't have to live in Fort Campbell's barracks anymore.
"Privacy-wise, you can't hide anything," Colvin said. "It's definitely cramped."
About a third of Fort Campbell's single soldier barracks — serving some 3,300 soldiers — house two soldiers to a room. The 46 soldiers on each floor have to share two large bathroom facilities.
"It's kind of a pain," Colvin said. "There are only four showerheads in the bathroom."
Other soldiers are bothered by the buildup of grime.
Pvt. Chris Daugherty, a Guardsman from Shreveport, La., says no amount of cleaning could keep his Fort Knox barracks spotless.
"It was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, but no matter how much you clean, the barracks have been used by so many privates that as far as the air ducts and the air systems, you can't get it totally clean," Daugherty said.
The base is replacing heating and air conditioning systems to decrease mold in showers and living quarters.
From Iraq to a ‘pigsty’
Soldiers at Fort McCoy, a sprawling World War II-era base in western Wisconsin now used for short-term Guard and Reserve training, stay in two-story wooden barracks dating to 1942. Fewer than half of the 276 barracks have been renovated or modernized.
Guard Master Sgt. Patrick Robinson, 55, of Wausau, Wis., saw peeling paint, missing floor tiles and clogged shower drains during his many training missions at the base. "You couldn't pay me to go into the shower rooms without shower shoes on," he said.
A few years ago Robinson, 55, refused to sleep in the barracks after opening a window and getting dead flies blown onto his bed. In 2006, he returned from Iraq to moldy barracks he said looked like a "pigsty."
Dauterman said she never complained about the Fort McCoy conditions. "We are in the Army and we accept many things about it. We are just accustomed to it," she said.
‘Nothing to complain about,’ colonel says
The Wisconsin Guard soldiers' commander, Col. Hillis Tinglum, said the barracks are acceptable given the short nature of training stays there. Compared with the conditions soldiers encounter in the Middle East, "We have nothing to complain about in staying in barracks like these," Tinglum said.
The Army aims to have new or renovated barracks housing for 147,700 enlisted soldiers within five years, according to Ned Christensen, chief of public affairs for the Army Installation Management Command. The Army doesn't have a total for all its barracks spending, but Christensen estimated that between 2004 and 2013, the construction cost for new barracks complexes will amount to $10.7 billion.
The Pentagon also gives troops more financial incentive to rent or buy housing in communities near their base rather than stay on base. Monthly allowances that vary according to a soldier's location, rank and dependents have been increased substantially in recent years.
But for those living on base, the conditions can be grim.
Ed Frawley, who shot the video of the Fort Bragg barracks after his son, Sgt. Jeff Frawley, came back from Afghanistan, said his son had lived in those barracks since he joined the Army in 2004. The Army said the younger Frawley isn't talking to reporters.
"He said it was depressing," the father said, "because you work all day and then you have to go back to these barracks."