FORT BENNING, Ga. – Army senior leaders will keep close watch on the quality of housing Army Families receive, a scrutiny that will need the sustained involvement of those in leadership positions, the Army's top enlisted Soldier said here Oct. 22.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston made the comment during a visit to Fort Benning for a look at the state of Family housing.
Fort Benning maintains more than 4,000 Family homes, which it manages through a private company, The Villages of Benning.
Earlier this month, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and Gen. Edward M. Daly, commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, met with private housing firms, investors, financial institutions and bond rating agencies, and agreed to finance an additional $2.8 billion for housing over the next five years.
"But it's not just about our partners putting in money," said Grinston. "It's about engaged leaders. And having leaders go through – and don't forget this is where our families live – and we need to make sure that we stay engaged with our families.
"It may be a private partner that's doing these houses, but as a leader we have an obligation to make sure that we have quality homes for our families," said Grinston.
Grinston himself intends to keep a close eye on Family housing and Soldier barracks in the coming years, he said.
"I'm gonna continuously go through the houses, I'm gonna go through the barracks, so that we do stay engaged."
His focus on housing was an outgrowth, he said, of the Army's ongoing response to a "housing crisis" that arose in the summer of 2018 in the wake of news reports of lead-based paint hazards and alleged inadequate oversight of housing on certain installations, including Fort Benning.
Members of Congress pressed for action, and the Army mounted a broad drive to correct deficiencies and adopt new practices to give its families the proper quality of housing.
"That's exactly why I'm here, you're right," Grinston said when a reporter asked whether his visit stemmed from those earlier events.
"A couple of years ago we were having a housing crisis," he said. "And I'm gonna make sure that we don't take our eye off the ball. That's exactly why I'm here. That we own up to our obligation to our Soldiers and our Families."
Fort Benning responded quickly with a robust set of corrective and other measures aimed at improving housing services: stringent new repair and inspection practices, hiring more housing-related staff, steps to ensure residents' repair and other housing concerns are made known to The Villages and Fort Benning's military leadership, monitoring of results, along with an overall emphasis from top-level leadership here on making housing service more efficient, transparent and responsive to residents.
Quality housing is among the Army's highest priorities and will continue to be, said Grinston.
That's especially so in light of the newly-adopted "People First" emphasis that the Army's top leadership announced earlier this month, he said.
It focuses on quality-of-life issues that besides housing include health care and the process followed when Soldiers and their families are required to relocate from one place of assignment to another. Such moves are known by the term permanent change of station, commonly referred to as PCS.
"So," said Grinston, "when we say 'People First,' for us, it's we're putting our resources into those quality-of-life things so that our people have quality places to live, they get good health care, and they can go through PCS moves."
The agreement to put the $2.8 billion toward housing would allow for recapitalizing about 18,000 homes and building 3,800 new ones, McCarthy said at last week's Association of the United States Army senior leader Family forum.
In addition, the Army plans major funding to improve barracks. It will put nearly $9 billion toward barracks, with $780 million this year.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville underscored the Army's commitment to barracks improvement, in remarks to the forum.
"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," McConville said. "It is going to take some time, but we are committed to making that happen."
The Army has also given the go-ahead to its installation commanders to hold contracting companies responsible, and to hire more than 100 additional staffers at installation management offices Army-wide, McCarthy said.
And McCarthy approved major changes to the way historic housing is managed: workers will now be allowed to use modern materials when renovating the historic homes, a move that will improve safety and lower costs. The change applies to repair and renovation of more than 3,200 homes built from 1919 to 1940. Fort Benning has 493 homes in the historic category.
Early in his two-day visit here Grinston stopped at a home on Fort Benning where a Soldier and his Family live, as part of his effort to get a sense of whether Army Families are receiving proper housing services.
Grinston said he was "pleased" with what he'd seen thus far, but emphasized the need for ongoing monitoring, especially through those leaders with authority to ensure proper housing service is being given.
"They were very pleased," he said of the Soldier Family, "and that's again – engaged leaders – going out and checking, making sure that the Families are comfortable with what we're doing," said Grinston.
"What I'm seeing so far is, we gotta maintain the momentum, and we are," he said.
"People First, and that's why we're going through the houses," said Grinston. "So we gotta keep that up. This is not something that's gonna go away. We're gonna have Families living in houses until I get out of the Army and for the foreseeable future. So we just gotta make sure that we stay engaged."