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Congress Values Names More Than Housing for Service Members

By Donald Smith; first published on 

“Removing the last vestiges of Confederate history from the U.S. military, including renaming nine Army posts, will cost more than $62 million, a congressional commission said Tuesday.”

Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-VA-2)

That quote is from Alex Horton’s Washington Post article on the recommendations of the Naming Commission, dated September 13th, 2022. “For the base names,” wrote Horton, “the changes will require a complete overhaul for items big and small, from signs outside the main gates to the stamps used to process paperwork for new and departing soldiers.”

One year later, it was crystal-clear that the “Naming” Commission’s recommendations went far, far beyond changing some base names. (Recommendations which, apparently, Congress let pass unchallenged). By September of 2023, cranes had removed statues of Grant and Lee from Reconciliation Plaza, a memorial park gifted to the U.S. Military Academy by the West Point Class of 1961 to commemorate the reconciliation of Union and Confederate West Pointers after the Civil War.

Cranes would soon show up in Arlington National Cemetery to remove the Reconciliation Memorial from the center of the Confederate cemetery in Arlington. And, across the nation, street signs were being pulled down, memorial bricks were being pulled out of monuments, software was being rewritten on classified and unclassified computer networks to reflect the new base names, etc. Undoubtedly, little-to-none of this was cheap. 

The Virginia Council, a Virginia heritage defense group created and led by WRVA talk show host John Reid, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of the Army, to see what the total cost of implementing all of the Naming Commission’s sweeping recommendations actually was. Some people I spoke with in the Army, who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, think that the total costs could far exceed $62 million. 

Also in September of 2023, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on the quality of housing in military barracks. “In recent years,” the GAO wrote, “there have been concerns about health and safety risks in military housing and DOD’s management of its housing programs. Poor housing conditions negatively affect quality of life.”

This excerpt is from the Highlights section of the report:

[S]ome barracks pose serious health and safety risks. As part of site visits to selected installations, GAO observed a variety of living conditions that service members and unit leaders stated were negatively affecting their quality of life, such as sewage overflow, mold and mildew, and broken windows and locks.

These paragraphs are from the full report on military barracks. 

[S]ome barracks…do not meet DOD standards for privacy and configuration, such as number of bedrooms. DOD has set minimum standards for assignment or occupancy to barracks related to health and safety, as well as privacy and configuration. These requirements include how much square footage each service member should have for living space. However, we found that some barracks pose potentially serious risks to service members, and that barracks do not always meet privacy and configuration standards. According to service officials, thousands of service members may live in substandard barracks.

Service members in all 12 discussion groups we conducted for our review and first sergeants at eight installations that we visited told us they had concerns about health, safety, or both in the barracks. We observed a variety of living conditions during site visits that service members and unit leaders told us were negatively affecting them, such as sewage overflow, mold and mildew, and broken windows and locks.

We also observed or heard about issues with water quality, pests, exposure to methane gas, and extreme temperatures, among others… We observed at multiple installations malfunctioning or broken fire safety systems, broken door locks and broken first-floor windows, insufficient lighting, evidence of squatters, and lack of functioning security cameras in barracks. First sergeants at one installation told us an ex-spouse broke in and physically assaulted a service member in the barracks. They also said that poorly lit hallways, blind spots in hallways and corridors, and lack of security cameras made barracks difficult to monitor. Service members at four installations reported concerns that these conditions contributed to an environment where theft, property damage, and sexual assault were more likely.

The GAO investigation was prompted by repeated claims that military housing was poorly maintained. “The Army must put more money and effort into repairing poorly maintained and substandard base housing for military service members and their families, U.S. senators demanded,” wrote Army Times in May of 2022, “amid persistent reports that mold and other issues threaten troops’ health. One after another, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee pressed top Army leaders during a hearing to spend money on military housing in their states. ‘We have all heard the horror stories of substandard on base housing, military families across the country, living with black mold and collapsed ceilings and electrical and fire hazards and a lot of other substandard conditions,’ said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. We need to fix our shameful military housing problem, and we need to do it as quickly as possible.’”

Fast forward eighteen months to October of 2023. In the wake of the GAO report, Rep. Jen Kiggans (pictured above), of Virginia’s 2nd District, pointed out that some of the bad housing conditions the GAO found are in her district, at Naval Air Station Oceana. “She said that at NAS Oceana, only about 49% of the housing is livable,” reported the WAVY website, which focuses on Norfolk and Hampton Roads.  Poor-quality military housing is “an issue we’ve put a lot of band-aids on for many, many years.” 

Kiggans cited several distressing findings from the report. “A lot of the issues [with housing] are attributed to funding. The report describes one Navy base that requested funding 10 years in a row because there wasn’t enough bed space. That installation never received funding, forcing the command to put 500 service members on aircraft carriers or berthing barges. There is a building that needs to be demolished that can’t be because the defense budget is inadequate. It all comes down to funding.”

Actually, it comes down to priorities. Elizabeth Warren, whose name is highlighted above, was one of the driving forces behind the Naming Commission. According to Wikipedia, it was her amendment to the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and her activism that led to the commission’s creation. You can fix an awful lot of substandard housing for $62 million dollars. 

As the old saying goes, actions (or spending, in this case) speak louder than words. It appears that the Naming Commission, and Congress, chose to fight dead Confederates instead of barracks mold. It’s times like this when we see what peoples’ priorities really are.

Donald Smith was raised outside of Richmond and is a University of Virginia graduate. Descended from a family of Confederate cavalrymen, he writes on Confederate heritage issues.



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