Senator assesses single Soldier housing
February 29, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., visited Fort Leonard Wood Feb. 21 to view Unaccompanied Enlisted Personnel Housing in response to a Military Construction Army program requesting to build 200 additional spaces in FY2018.
The Directorate of Public Works has a MCA program under way to renovate 288 spaces on Indiana Avenue and to begin construction on 240 additional spaces this year to improve the quality of life for single Soldiers.
Due to some single Soldier housing being converted to Advanced Individual Training barracks, the data that showed the number of UEPH assets was incorrect and had to be reevaluated.
"When we were revalidating/reviewing our UEPH requirements -- we are talking primarily about permanent party -- there was a conversion of some permanent party to Advanced Individual Training that takes those out of the inventory, so those go to students and are no longer available," said Bobby Rakes, DPW director.
Two smaller projects were then submitted for 250 spaces, but in March 2011 after a visit from Headquarters Installation Management Command and Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, a review of the programmed projects showed a shortfall of 200 UEPH spaces.
During Blunt's visit, Alice Bischoff, Housing Division chief, and Rakes showed the Senator some of the single Soldier housing that had not been renovated since the early '90s, as well as housing that was newly renovated for comparison.
"I looked at some barracks that are in need of being rehabilitated and (Fort Leonard Wood) believes and I believe that it's something that needs to be higher on the defense priority list than it is, and I have talked to the Secretary of the Army and others about that and I think they are paying close attention to it, and I look forward to a different decision either this year or in the very near future," Blunt said.
Bischoff said Blunt's visit was important because he needed to see that even though the remodeled housing looks better, the work done does not address the underlying problems of 60-year-old infrastructure issues, such as plumbing and wiring.
"As the elected representative in the Senate for Missouri, Blunt is trying to make sure the Department of Defense, Department of the Army and ultimately Congress make the final decisions … sometime late this spring or summer, the next five years of MILCON and MCA will be approved," Rakes said. "So, the earliest this project can get in the program will be FY2018."
Bischoff and Rakes both believed Blunt's visit was successful, and thought the senator understood the concerns of Fort Leonard Wood's senior leadership.
"This is IMCOM's No. 1 priority at Fort Leonard Wood," Rakes added. "It's something our senior leaders feel very passionate about and it is the oldest inhabited housing on the installation so it is well overdue for replacement."
Renovations and improvements scheduled to take place on Indiana Avenue this year include new roofs, resurfacing parking lots, repairing front and rear porches, and new paint both inside and out. There will also be updates to living areas, kitchens, bathrooms and additional safety measures, such as CO2 detectors installed.
Originally, DPW had five projects in the Future Years Defense Program, which would have constructed 960 UEPH spaces for permanent party Soldiers, Reserve students and Interservice Training Review Organization students. An additional two projects were then added to construct 480 additional UEPH spaces along with maintenance and headquarters space. Also, the Grow-the-Army project was added to construct 270 additional spaces, as well as a Warrior in Transition project to build 48 spaces.
Combined, these projects would have built 1,758 UEPH spaces.
However, two of the UEPH projects were dropped from the FY2008 project, which eliminated 350 spaces. In 2009, an additional 480 spaces were also cut from the program requiring a stand-alone project.
In addition to inspecting the housing, Blunt also met with local media and addressed several areas of concern.
When asked about how Fort Leonard Wood had changed since his last visit, Blunt responded that Fort Leonard Wood had both improved and grown, and renewed investment by the federal government should continue this year and next year.
"As we talk about downsizing the military and cutting back the defense budget some, seeing that commitment to (Fort Leonard Wood) is a good thing for those of us who care … and understand both the impact it has on defending the country and frankly the economic impact it has on our state," Blunt said.
Blunt also commented on the proposed budget and how he perceived it affecting post.
"I do think that as we look at spending, we have to look at everything including defense, but the one thing the federal government does that nobody else can do is defend the country," Blunt said. "And the one thing we do that nobody else in the world is prepared to do is create a stabilizing force in the world that is for freedom and democracy and we need to continue to do that."
Blunt added, "Now looking at everything we do and assuring ourselves that that's still what we need to do with today's defense needs … is important, but if the federal government doesn't do it's job, nobody else is going to do that particular job, and so I think we've got to be sure we continue to have a strong defense, and while we look at defense spending, we have to look at every other thing the federal government's spending with even a finer microscope than we do with defense."
Blunt said the one thing about defense is there are a lot of things you have to prepare for that you hope you never have to face and the chances that you never use them are greater if you are under prepared.
When asked about how he felt the proposed budget would affect veterans, Blunt said he thought veterans were as protected as any other Americans from hard decisions the government has to make, to include military retirees.
Blunt himself worked to help add the long-term medical benefits that retirees were promised, but were not receiving a few years ago.
"There wasn't very good defense in my opinion when I went to the Congress on why retirees weren't getting those benefits and not only can you go back to the recruiting posters from decades ago when these retirees signed up and said, 'Look, here is what it says,' but we were also able to add a few things involving pharmaceuticals and things that nobody would have anticipated at that recruiting time. If you don't honor your veterans and your military retirees, those families that for generation after generation have been the example of service begin to feel differently about their service than they otherwise would or should."