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April 25, 2008

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Wow – disgraceful. Full stop.

Hilzoy, one of the reasons (OK main one) that I started reading you is that you were such a conundrum to me. An obvious lefty who was so supportive of the actual troops… Not using them to promote this position or that, just genuinely all around supportive. You kind of shattered my view of the left. One thing led to another and now I have to watch out for Rove’s agents when I walk my dog…

Although I have managed to train her to p*ss on his leg when he comes by…

Well, OCSteve, that's great that you've come to understand that Hilzoy isn't THE LEFT, that cartoon character that we've heard pilloried lo these last forty years since the hippies lost the Tet Offensive.

But what that video shows is one thing above all: the fish rots from the head. Every federal agency has now been afflicted by crappy leadership. Why? Fate? Or stupid and/or venal appointees? The question answers itself.

Vote for the servicemen/women, vote for the veterans, vote Democrat.

I saw the video on Spencer Ackerman's blog in the afternoon, and I've been kind of surprised it's gotten so little pickup on the blogs generally.

I realize the neverending primary campaign is sucking up a huge amount of the available attention, but the situation is wholly unexceptional.

Is the problem here really lack of money or is a lack of focus also implicated. It seems like military support personal would have their hands full trying to keep deployments going. A support team that would have plenty of time to properly manage barracks during peace time might not have the time or energy to do that while trying to manage deployments after five years of war.

Stickler: Uhm, whatever.

Vote for the servicemen/women, vote for the veterans, vote Democrat.

Cool. Got any specific recommendations? Do you realize, that the Congressman I changed parties for (back to R) was … Ah, screw it.

Also note that there is an updated story in the local paper. Some highlights:

Responding to the video Friday afternoon, Army officials allowed the media to tour the barracks, which houses about 100 soldiers in the Charlie Company of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

....

The barracks was undergoing repairs before they arrived on April 13, but the work did not get done in time, McCollum said.

Soldiers — including some who just returned from Afghanistan — and contractors spent the last 12 days scraping, painting and making other cosmetic improvements, Fox said. He said the plumbing also has been repaired.

Other than peeling paint in the bathrooms, the barracks looked much better Friday than what was depicted on the video.

....

The Army plans to raze all of the 1950s barracks and have all of its soldiers into the new-style quarters by 2013, Fox said.

But until then, about 3,500 soldiers will apparently have to continue living in the old, worn-out barracks.

An Army source said the 82nd has requested that soldiers living in the old barracks be given housing allowances to move into private housing off post until the new barracks are completed.

But so far, he said, the Army has been unwilling to grant the request, which could cost millions of dollars.

While it's good that it appears that some efforts towards repairs may have already been underway, and the efforts may have been accelerated, the key bit has to be the last part.

Soldiers — including some who just returned from Afghanistan — and contractors spent the last 12 days scraping, painting and making other cosmetic improvements, Fox said.

Hey, Stickler, lay off OCSteve, he said politely.

No one knows Hilzoy and has come farther to knowing Hilzoy than OCSteve.

It's so much easier for me to agree with Hilzoy because I arrived here agreeing with her. Before either one of us opened our mouths.

Steve actually had to work at it. He's better than I am.

Now, you and I, Stickler, might be on the same side and we might have it out with Steve OCish at some point, but I'm thinking I'm going to let him get the first shot in.

But, yeah, vote Democratic.

Steve might. Which is good enough for me.

There's a somewhat notorious house in my town. It's notorious because it was the home of a fishing boat captain whose ship went down with all hands in a storm.

All hands except him. Somehow, the captain alone made it home.

The widows of the men who had died tarred and feathered him, and ran his sorry ass out of town.

This is not the first, and will likely not be the last, incident of this kind. Somebody, or some set of somebodies, clearly does not give a rats behind for the safety and well being of folks in uniform.

This crap will continue until that person or persons is made to pay in a coin that matters to them.

Thanks -

"The Army plans to raze all of the 1950s barracks and have all of its soldiers into the new-style quarters by 2013, Fox said."


I hope they don't use the same contractors that missed wired the showers in Iraq (Or was it Afghanistan?)

Wait for the first soldier to exclaim: We had it better in Afghanistan than here!

With all due respect but I fear this is not just a GOP-vs.-Dem problem. I think there is just a greater contrast between rhethorics and reality on the right but the living conditions will not necessarily turn from slum to luxury resort just because the admin has another capital letter in front of it. Absent regular inspection by the public every administration will be open to the temptation to "save money" by shortchanging the common trooper while blowing the money on something more visible (like shiny new weapon systems).

stickler: what everyone else said. OCSteve is a mensch. I have not had to travel anything like the road he has, and I have no earthly idea whether if I had, I would have travelled it with half his grace and good humor.

OCSteve: I was very lucky in my choice of parents. ;) Back when I was a kid, I was completely baffled by anti-troop sentiment, and asked my parents about it. My Dad (I think it was) said: it makes no sense; many of them are kids, they're doing their job as they have been asked to; it's not their fault, it's the people who asked them to go. I can't recall whether he said this, but somehow it was very clear to me that a willingness to do your duty was a good thing, and that this good thing had just been betrayed by the people who asked kids who could hardly be expected to be instant experts in geopolitics and the history of SE Asia to risk their lives in what I took to be the wrong war.

I have never seen any particular reason to rethink that view. It's part of what makes me so furious about the administration: the flip side of my view that it's not soldiers' job to decide which wars to fight is that it damn well is the job of senior people in the administration, and when they send good people, who just want to do their duty, off to die without a good reason, I get very, very angry. But always at the people whose fault I think it is, not at the people whose trust they betray. I assume they have enough trouble without having to deal with my misplaced anger.

It used to throw Andy too. ;)

Back OT: what bothers me about the army response is not just that they aren't granting the funding; it's that the tone of it (in the part you quoted and in other articles I read before writing this) makes it sound as though this was not exceptional, as in fact it probably isn't. I would think that the appropriate response would be: holy sh*t, barracks for returning troops look like THIS????!!! Do anything, send them to Vegas or on a luxury cruise or *whatever*, but DO NOT ask them to sleep here, especially not when they've just gotten back from 15 months in theater.

And "they didn't actually see what it's like" is no excuse: someone ought to have, and in my world, that someone ought to have reacted as I said, dragging superiors down to see it or emailing photos or whatever, and then the response I just mentioned should have kicked in.

The fact that it didn't suggests that this might be slightly worse than usual, but it's not far enough outside the norm to make the "holy sh*t" response kick in. And that makes me absolutely furious.

In the para. beginning "Back OT": "you", of course, is warren terra, not OCSteve. Sorry to have switched without making that clear.

Real Americans would grit their teeth and with steely sneer whisper, "Thank you sir, may I have another" and then suck it up.

Complainin' is for wimps.

Almost all housing for the military is now handled by private contractors. I have heard some real horror stories.

At one base, the name of which I will not disclose, new homes were being built for the troops and many of them had to be abandoned within a year because of cost-cutting measures that resulted in major structural problems. I do not know if normal building codes apply.

What are the chances that someone's robbing Peter to pay Paul create an appropriated-but-unexpended pool of funds?

Think like a true believer. Put yourself in the Cheneybunker for a minute.

The money would be far better used to minimize the apparent cost of George's Big Mesopotamian Campaign Commercial, or as a down-payment on some fresh horror that Congress couldn't be persuaded to fund on the merits than blown on creature comforts for soldiers who, after all, are just The Help.

In George Bush's America, we're all just The Help.

They've been caught doing this once already.

Hilzoy: It used to throw Andy too.

I’m proud to be in such good company then.


someotherdude : Real Americans would grit their teeth and with steely sneer whisper, "Thank you sir, may I have another" and then suck it up.

Actually for the most part, they do. This is not to excuse any of this in any way – but I did want to note that crappy accommodations for the military are nothing new. I lived in WWII era barracks in the early 80’s. Even family housing was nothing to get excited about. Some of the places I saw are not any place anyone would want to live. So while this is bad, it is not necessarily something new.

I don't know, OCSteve . . granted I was just a kid, but I don't remember any of the housing my family lived in in any stateside installation to be anywhere NEAR this. The worst thing I ever remember is some temp quarters we spent the night in just before moving out of Fort Leonard Wood, and the only bad thing about that was some rusty water in the shower and a couple of cockroaches. Even the BOQ my dad lived in at Ft. Belvoir after my folks split up was pretty decent.

Pretty standard, actually.

It's not as if TPTB haven't already asked the families of service men and women to do without more base services. Hartmut has it right...better new weapons systems than improving conditions for the grunts and their families.

A civilian government that actually supported the troops would do a massive reform of the Pentagon's broken budgeting and requisitioning system and demand that the people actually doing the fighting get first priority in any budget, rather than packing the budget with as much well-armed pork as you can manage and using emergency funding to actually maintain the part of the military that is actually doing that for which it was built.

Which actually sounds a lot like the private sector. Too much flowing to the top and not enough being passed on to the bottom where the work gets done and the personal risk gets concentrated.

Before I joined the Army I actually believed that most people in America, both Democrats and Republicans, supported soldiers even if they didn't support the missions our government sent them on. Being a soldier, and now a vet, has taught me that America only cares about soldiers when it doesn't cost anything. Name a highway after a Medal of Honor winner, hold a flashy press conference, put a sticker on the car: people are happy to do these things. But when it comes to spending tax dollars on concrete things to raise a soldier's standard of living above third world conditions, no one gives a crap. Politicians (sometimes) do the minimum to keep the military functioning, but no more than that, and the public doesn't pay enough attention enough to make this change. Its just the way things are; don't be shocked.

An obvious lefty who was so supportive of the actual troops… Not using them to promote this position or that, just genuinely all around supportive. You kind of shattered my view of the left.

Yeah, well: meeting actual real people will do that to your prejudices, sometimes.

It's interesting, OCSteve, because I undoubtedly know more "actual real obvious lefties" than you do. Hell, I probably know more pacifists than you do.

And except in right-wing fantasies, I've never encountered anyone on the left who wasn't supportive of the actual, real people who happen to be soldiers. The hostility towards soldiers I've encountered directly has all come from the right - for example, from people like John McCain, who believes that soldiers who aren't straight ought to be penalized and harassed for their sexual orientation: or the pro-lifers who believe that soldiers who need an abortion ought not to be allowed to use their base's medical facilities to get one: or the misogynists who believe that when soldiers are raped, it's their fault.

I was part of a movement in the UK to ensure that soldiers would not be court martialed or dishonorably dismissed the service for their sexual orientation or their gender identity: I was part of an earlier movement to ensure that a soldier who found she was pregnant would not have to decide to abort or take an honorable discharge from the military. In all this we were opposed, not by the left, but by the right.

I am a pacifist: I used to joke that I was all for kicking people out of the military for their sexual orientation, so long as it was for all sexual orientations - gay, bi, and straight. It was a bitter joke: I'd seen firsthand exactly what the kind of injustice that was perpetuated against LGBT soldiers was like for them. (My best friend's girlfriend, when I was 18, was kicked out of the military for being a lesbian: so were half a dozen other soldiers I knew at that time.)

So when I hear a rightist going "Leftists don't support the troops" I usually wonder: So where do you stand on supporting the troops? For or against the right of LGBT soldiers to serve openly? For or against the right of soldiers to be treated equally regardless of gender?

This isn't actually directed at you, OCSteve. (Aside from a trace of sardony about the rightist treatment of John Kerry, purple heart bandaids and all, but we've already danced that tango once this week.) But in my experience, direct hostility against soldiers comes from the right, not the left.

Phil: … but I don't remember any of the housing my family lived in in any stateside installation to be anywhere NEAR this.

I didn’t intent to convey that it was predominant or consistent. Most bases are a mix of old and new. It’s not uncommon to have some families living in very nice townhouses while down the street a bunch of single soldiers are living in a WWII Quonset hut.

But as a general trend, housing was never a top priority in my experience. Much worse than how a particular building may appear are the hidden dangers common to way too many bases. The military lagged behind the general public on most environmental issues, and lead paint abatement would have been the least of your worries. In the Ft. Ord discussion the other day I mentioned that it is a highly contaminated superfund site. Well generations of soldiers raised families there. And it’s a widespread problem on bases across the country:

Yet despite the prevalence of toxins, no government agency or environmental group has studied the risks routinely incurred by military families. No one has compiled an inventory, list, or database of contaminated housing sites. Neither the U.S. EPA nor the military nor the numerous nonprofit organizations that specialize in military environmental issues has taken up the cause of military families that, despite the national exhortation to "support our troops," are routinely exposed to contamination in their homes.

Raezer and other advocates said that despite soldiers' silence, contaminated housing is a serious problem for military families and the officials charged with their safety. "If there's a sleeper issue on military health, this is it," said Saul Bloom, director of Arc Ecology, a San Francisco-based environmental group that specializes in overseeing military cleanups.

Based on his work on closed military bases, Bloom estimated that at least half of military housing is "environmentally compromised." But, he added, whereas the government and charitable foundations will provide funding for groups like Arc to oversee cleanups affecting the general public, addressing health risks faced by military residents is taboo.

While overall defense funding goes up, the money available for cleaning and improving housing remains inadequate. "They're not intentionally being negligent. They just don't have enough money," she said. A 2000 report by the Association of the U.S. Army reads, "It would take $20 billion and 30 years to bring military housing up to par. Complicating matters is that there is little money to keep it up to par." The report goes into detail about the decrepit state of family housing, but does not address the issue of contamination. (The military's current effort to revitalize its moldering homes involves privatizing much of the housing. Because developers shy away from contaminated sites, Raezer and others questioned whether this gives the Pentagon a disincentive to proactively assess and address potential contamination.)

Sifting through documents from the EPA, ATSDR, and DoD on the 3,000-plus U.S. military bases with known contamination reveals hundreds of instances of toxins in or near the homes of service members and their families. These instances range from solvent-contaminated drinking water to radon seeping into basements to houses located next to inadequately covered hazardous waste dumps. But many of these documents lack detailed health-risk assessments for those living on the bases, either currently or in the past.

At Camp Pendleton, one family is taking legal action against the government, claiming that negligent practices at a hazardous waste dump 40 feet from their backyard left their daughter permanently disabled. The Myers family lived at Camp Pendleton in 1999 and early 2000. The father is a Marine officer, and the mother a former Navy enlistee. Their daughter, then a healthy four-year-old, would play with the family dog in their backyard, adjacent to the Box Canyon landfill. According to their attorney, San Francisco-based Scott Allen, the Marines and their independent contractors spent six to eight months in 1999 and 2000 taking hazardous waste -- including heavy metal-laden ash -- from sites around Camp Pendleton to the Box Canyon dump as part of a Superfund cleanup.

The contractors dumping at the site failed to follow basic safety procedures, Allen said, and dust containing heavy metals became airborne, ended up in the Myers' yard, and was inhaled by the child and the dog. The girl, now seven, has permanent brain damage; neuropathy in the hands, feet, and head; alopecia universalis (loss of all body hair); and a lowered IQ. These are all symptoms of exposure to thallium, a toxic metal found at dangerous levels in the child and dog three months after they left Camp Pendleton.

Read the whole thing as they say. This is how we’ve been treating soldiers and their families - their children, for generations. And outside of the military community most people don’t have a clue this is the situation. The next time you hear/read someone claiming that the troops aren’t really underpaid because hey, they get free housing, please direct them to that article and then ask them if they would like to raise their children in that free housing…

And outside of the military community most people don’t have a clue this is the situation.

Let me amend that – many within the military community don’t have a clue this is the situation. There isn’t even a requirement to tell Sgt. Jones that the cozy little home he has just been assigned for his young family is next door to a superfund cleanup site.

OCSteve: Thanks for the link. It makes me furious. Google revealed moreproblems (more, more ... )

This makes me furious.

And I keep thinking: all those contractors who paid off Duke Cunningham to get military contracts that they shouldn't have gotten: they somehow managed to get money. They had people in power to advocate for them. Where are the people in power who ought to be advocating for our actual soldiers and their families?

Where are the people in power who ought to be advocating for our actual soldiers and their families?

The military term is AWOL. ;(

And think about this some more: “It would take $20 billion and 30 years to bring military housing up to par.” …without even considering the required environmental cleanup.

Here’s a 2001 GAO report (PDF) that gets into some specifics about how bad it is:

By DOD’s estimates, about two-thirds of military housing is inadequate and would require $16 billion and almost 30 years to renovate or replace using traditional military construction. Efforts to use private contractors to build and operate housing are off to a slow start and
may require long-term commitments (50 years or more) from the government.

In addition, the plans show that about two-thirds of the approximately 285,000 aging
government-owned houses are in inadequate condition.

And again, even in a GAO report, there is not one mention of the environmental issues.

It’s tough to find the exact number of young children at risk here, but we can make a guess based on 285,000 housing units and the estimate that “half of military housing is "environmentally compromised".

Considering the amount of money being spent on this war, you’d have to expect more bang for your buck.

I suspect there are certain soldiers who would never have to put up with this type of treatemnt, while there is another class/type of soldier who is expected to “put up and shut-up.”

FWIW, my son will, if the opportunity is there, never live in the military offered housing again. He currently owns his home, and if transferred will purchase again.

Your son is a wise man John. (apple … tree…)

The sad part in all this is that the military is still a place where there are still clear class distinctions. Officers v enlisted. Any of you folks with current knowledge of how these things work please chime in and correct me if I am wrong (looking at you Lt. Nixon [I enjoy your blog BTW]).

An officer can (could) choose to live off post if they desired to. Even if they were single I think. A married enlisted person with kids did not have that choice. If military housing was available you had to take it. If your commander decided to allow you to live off post in that situation you would not get a housing allowance. And a single soldier living in the barracks had no hope at all of being allowed to live off post.

Thanks for your service. Here’s a house for you and your young children to live in and you have little choice about it. No need to inform you that it also happens to be a freakin’ environmental hazard.

stickler: Well, OCSteve, that's great that you've come to understand that Hilzoy isn't THE LEFT, that cartoon character that we've heard pilloried lo these last forty years since the hippies lost the Tet Offensive.

Of course not. Norbizness can no longer be contained by a single blog!

Tayi: Being a soldier, and now a vet, has taught me that America only cares about soldiers when it doesn't cost anything.

FWIW, this is a good reason to vote Democrat, or at least liberal: yes, we may well advocate raising your taxes, but goddammit, we want to do something useful with that money.

[Of course, we also advocate doing plenty of useless things too, but it's not like we're sitting around telling soldiers that the free market will provide.]

It looks a lot like Walter Reed, doesn't it?

But the Republicans support the troops and we don't.

Must be some meaning of "support the troops" that only makes sense in some language that the wingnuts know.

20 billion dollars over 30 years? That's about 1/1000th of the official Pentagon budget per year (and even less, if the real military related expenses are counted).
To claim that there is insufficient funding for that is beyond ridiculous.

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