COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Top officials at Fort Jackson are taking on some of the responsibility following complaints of sub-standard housing conditions on base after the Army launched a nationwide effort to step-up inspections and increase transparency between military bases and their partners.
On March 1st, Fort Jackson leaders hosted a town hall on the base, hearing housing concerns from military members and their spouses. Some of the complaints included mold and sewage problems, as well as work orders that were never completed or resolved.
“It’s always been there and really the Army as a while, and as I speak for Fort Jackson specifically, we’ve dropped the ball,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jerimiah Gan said. “The partners could have done some things they could have absolutely do better on and as leadership here at Fort Jackson, we’ve lost sight of the goalpost as far as ensuring they’re doing the right thing by our family members that live in housing that is absolutely justified to get the best housing we can give them.”
In the 1990s, military base housing was privatized in an effort to improve housing and living conditions for military families nationwide. Fort Jackson partners with Balfour Beatty, a private company in a contract with the Department of Defense. Balfour Beatty owns the homes on Fort Jackson and is responsible for maintenance and upkeep.
According to a Fort Jackson spokesperson, there are 610 homes on Fort Jackson that are deemed new, built between 2009 and 2012. An additional 240 “legacy homes” are also occupied and were built between 1965 and 1985. Balfour Beatty is responsible for inspecting the homes and ensuring they are clean ahead of move-in.
In the past, if a resident found an issue within the housing they’re assigned to, they can submit a work order to Balfour Beatty, who is responsible to dispatch a maintenance employee to fix the problem. However, at the town hall meeting, some residents said those work orders were not responded to, not completed, and in some cases, a maintenance employee never showed up.
“We failed to ensure the link between the solider and the partner was a strong bond,” Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said. “The partner owns this, we own this and the house owners own this and ensuring everyone is singing from the same sheet of music to make sure we’re addressing, most importantly, the life, health, and safety issues as fast as we can.”
Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy also spent time at Fort Jackson earlier this month, talking to residents and touring homes.
Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said there are currently 24-hour hotlines in place, so if a resident has a maintenance problem, it can be responded to as quickly as possible. Additionally, if a military member has an issue within their home, they are to notify their commanding officer, who will make the necessary contacts to get the problem resolved.
“You’re changing a culture, not just a system,” Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said. “Reinstate a culture where you let the leadership get involved and be a catalyst for success and not try to do it on your own. Most often times, families in the past have felt like they’re doing this on their own and they’re yelling at deaf ears.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said the problem is widespread across the nation and can be found within every installation under the Department of Defense. As a result, he said there is no “cookie-cutter” fix to the problem.
“We’re at a zero-sum balance, regardless of what we’ve done up to this point, we’re starting at a zero sum. We need to prove ourselves as far as leaders and as partners to ensure we’re giving the best quality of life possible,” he said.
The Army gave Fort Jackson leadership until Monday to contact all residents living in on-post housing and offer to come into their homes to ensure the standard of living is acceptable. Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said all barracks have already been inspected.
Moving forward, he hopes to have multiple systems in place to not only fix the existing problems but ensure they do not repeat themselves. To do that, Gan said the residents will not only put in a work order but will immediately alert their leader to the problem.
“Now you’ve got two channels fighting the same fight,” he said. “In the past. the assumption was there that the right thing was happening and in fact, not everything that was being said to be done was being done. We are going to change that.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Gan said he doesn’t have an exact timeline but says there are plans in the future to demolish and rebuild some homes, as well as modernize others.