WASHINGTON -- The Army is pumping more funds into military housing, while finding ways to ease challenges when Soldiers and families head to a new duty station.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd, senior leaders spoke on those efforts as they took questions from the audience and social media on military family issues during a town hall at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
"The Army is people. It's our most important weapon system," said Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army. "That's what makes us the world's greatest Army. So we have to take care of them."
This year, the service established five quality of life priorities: housing, healthcare, childcare, spouse employment and permanent change-of-station moves.
By making them priorities, the general said, Army officials are creating new initiatives for them.
"We believe we owe it to you to provide quality of life that's commensurable really to quality of service," he said, referring to ways to keep Soldiers in boots.
So far, privatized housing companies have committed $500 million to fix military housing, which the general said is not enough.
Senior leaders have had "candid conversations" with the CEOs of those companies, pushing them to improve housing conditions.
"We need to do a lot more than that," McConville said. "We want to not have M's, we want to get some B's on those numbers to fix the housing."
He also noted that about $1 billion has been spent on barracks, with plans to increase that number, too.
The Army has also hired additional housing officials to ensure contractors quickly address issues brought up by families living in military housing.
This fall, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy expects to release a new Tenant Bill of Rights, which is intended to hold privatized housing companies more liable by giving oversight authority to local military leaders.
The Army has worked with the Air Force and Navy to create the Bill of Rights, but must wait for Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act before it can be codified into law, he said.
McCarthy said the housing problems arose from a leadership issue over the years that he intends to make right.
Earlier this year when problems first surfaced, the secretary said he traveled to installations to meet with families during housing inspections. In those visits, he realized the Army essentially just outsourced housing, leading to reduced resources and responsibility.
"When I came home and made my assessment to [the other senior leaders], I pointed the thumb more so than pointed the finger," he said. "It's a leadership issue."
Unlike a corporation, the Army is more accountable for its people, McConville said.
"We're a military organization, we're not a private company," he said. "The leadership sitting here, we're responsible and accountable for all our Soldiers and families. That's what makes us different."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said issues in housing, as well as in the other quality of life priorities, should first try to be handled at the ground level.
Junior leaders need to take action when their Soldiers voice a problem to them, he said. And if they don't have a solution, they can go up their chain of command until they find one.
"You're going to actually have to figure out what's going on with your folks," Grinston said. "You know your people and most of the time, somebody knows it. We're going to fix this, whatever this is."
To alleviate the peak PCS moving season each summer, McConville said the Army is looking to incentivize "do-it-yourself" moves for families interested in doing so.
If a family can complete all the required paperwork, perhaps they should be given up to 100 percent of what the Army would pay a commercial mover, he said.
"You go move if you want to do it. If not, you go through the system," he said. "I think we'll be able to reduce those moves."
A new talent management system being developed by the Army may also reduce moves, he added, since it may allow Soldiers to stay a few years longer in one location.
"If we can accommodate that, then why shouldn't we?" he asked.