Over the next 5 years, the US Army plans to invest some $40 billion in military construction on American bases, in order to provide lodgings and facilities for soldiers and their families. As “The Army’s Building Boom” [PDF] notes, many of these facilities are leveraging construction ideas and even designs from suburban America. Some of the military’s existing facilities, however, still need to be upgraded, and project delays can have serious public impacts when soldiers return home. A recent YouTube video by a soldier’s father has triggered scrutiny and action at Ft. Bragg, NC, and also illustrated the changing power of distributed media with respect to the military and information operations.
Sgt. Jeff Frawley of the 82nd Airborne, 2-508 recently returned from Afghanistan to a barracks that had been partially renovated in terms of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, but still had issues like backed up sewage that was several inches deep, broken toilets, peeling lead-based paint, broken drinking fountain pipes with escaping sewer gas, and other issues. His father Edward Frawley says he had seen the barracks in these conditions several times over the last few of years. He says that he finally decided he would go public after the unit returned from Afghanistan and he still saw a building that “should be condemned.” In the modern era, however, Frawley did not have to find a media outlet interested in doing a story about his son’s barracks. He simply posted his pictures and narration on YouTube on April 22/08. Distribution picked up quickly, leading to a flurry of attention from Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dick Cody, Sen. Elizabeth Dole [R-NC], CNN and other news outlets, a tour of Congressional staffers, and releases from the military itself.
Sgt. Frawley’s and Charlie company had returned a month early. Even so, given the conditions, the military has apologized and reacted swiftly in the wake of the video. Edward Frawley has told CNN that there has been good progress since these details became public. Nevertheless, the issue of older builds and conditions goes beyond this one installation. There are 23 similar buildings at Fort Bragg, each built in the 1950s during the Korean War. All are scheduled to be taken “out of the inventory” in next 5 years, as new barracks come on line in a flurry of construction. In the wake of this incident, and the obvious potential for repeats, senior leadership in the Army has directed all barracks Army-wide receive walk through inspections to determine if they might exhibits similar failures of standards, and to implement immediate fixes if not. See: Edward Frawley’s YouTube video, incl. his narration | CNN Story | CNN video | US Army follow-on release.