WASHINGTON -- Safe and affordable housing remains a top quality of life initiative, as the Army looks to improve its neighborhoods and oversight over privatized housing companies, senior leaders said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and Gen. Edward M. Daly, head of Army Materiel Command, met with private housing companies and financial backers to increase funding for privatized housing.
They agreed to finance an additional $2.8 billion toward housing over the next five years, McCarthy said during this year's Association of the U.S. Army senior leader family forum.
"We are putting a tremendous amount of investment capital back into the [Army] to recapitalize about 18,000 homes and build 3,800 new ones," he said. "This substantial capital increase is going to help us make fundamental changes to [installations] around the country and at locations overseas.”
Along with increased funding for homes, leaders are working to improve Army barracks by investing close to $9 billion over the next decade, starting with a $780 million influx of funding this year, McCarthy said.
"We want to make sure we have quality barracks, and we are putting billions of dollars into those facilities to make sure that we have that quality," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville. "It is going to take some time, but we are committed to making that happen."
The Army has also empowered its installation commanders to hold contracting companies responsible, in addition to hiring more than 100 additional staff members at installation management offices throughout the force, McCarthy said.
"Over the past 18 months, we have vastly improved our management and communication with the [privatized housing companies]," McCarthy said.
A mobile app is now in the works to help residents submit and track housing work orders, officials said. The force is also continuing to provide regular home inspections for safety hazards, such as mold, asbestos, peeling lead paint, and other potential hazards.
"We will continue to listen to make changes that ease the stressors and burdens to our Soldiers and their families," McCarthy added. "We owe it to the families and our service members to do much more."
McCarthy also approved historic housing maintenance changes, which will allow for the effective repair and renovation of over 3,200 homes built from 1919 to 1940. Workers can now use modern materials to revitalize these facilities, improving safety and reducing costs.
"We have energy and wind at our backs right now, but we still have a long haul in front of us," McCarthy said.
Taking care of families, Soldiers
Beyond investments in housing, all leaders should make a concerted effort to know each of their Soldiers and their families, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
"Army families are the bedrock of our institution," McCarthy said. "This year, especially, they have demonstrated their resiliency."
All three senior leaders said they were thankful for the support and care Army families provided, especially the National Guard and Reserve families that helped support their Soldiers during COVID-19 efforts.
The Army has asked a lot from its junior leaders over the past 19 years, Grinston added. With the increased workload, it has become increasingly difficult to find additional time to support their subordinates' needs.
"These are difficult times and leaders need to think through how we are taking care of our families during this COVID-19 environment," McConville said. "We have single [and] dual working parents. We need to take a hard look at how we are supporting our Soldiers."
Looking ahead, the Army is driven to build a cohesive team around a Soldier -- comprised of a leader, family, and friends -- to provide them continuous assistance, McConville said. The Army chief considers this to be a "golden triangle" of support.
"If a family is having a problem, they can then go to that leader for help," he said. "That leader might not be expected to solve the problem, but they need to ... know who to get help from."
Additionally, U.S. Army Forces Command has instituted a program to allow leaders time to meet with their troops, Grinston said. This also gives them a chance to check in on housing, barracks, child development centers, and other facilities to support their team better.
McCarthy said the Army has increased child care staffing by 7% and added more than 5,000 childcare spaces in the past fiscal year. The force plans to build nine more CDCs over the next five years.
Taking care of families also includes spouse employment. Leaders have expanded the non-appropriated fund employee program under the new Civilian Employment Assignment Tool, or CEAT, to help spouses maintain their careers as they move to a new installation, McCarthy said.
Suppose a position is available at the gaining installation. In that case, certain NAF employees can request a transfer to another post at the same grade, pay level, and employment category under the CEAT program, officials said.
"We have also increased the licensing reimbursement to $1,000, to include exam registration fees," McCarthy said. "We need the skills spouses can [provide], and we need to … lessen the costs incurred by moving."
Overall, the performance and resiliency by all Soldiers and families in the past year has been extraordinary, McCarthy said.
"We heard you last year, and we have put a lot of activity in place. But activity is interesting -- results are compelling," McCarthy added. "The stress on this institution is unprecedented, and we will do everything we can to give you the quality of life you deserve and reduce stress wherever possible."