FORT POLK, La. — “When we take care of our people and treat each other with dignity and respect, we will have a much stronger, and more committed Army. It’s always (been) people first. People are our greatest strength and most important weapons system.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville spoke those words at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 14. Part of his “people first” edict is providing quality barracks space for Soldiers, making the rooms more like a home than a hotel stay.
Barracks Modernization Program
At the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, renovations to aging barracks are expected to increase the building’s lifespan and improve the quality of life for unaccompanied enlisted personnel. Sidney Martin, a mechanical engineer and project leader with Fort Polk’s Directorate of Public Works, said the program started with 34 barracks, and now there are eight barracks between 40 and 44 years old left, expected to be completed by fiscal year 2022, increasing the number of living spaces by 688.
“A major concern at Fort Polk is the aging barracks and providing quality, modernized living spaces for single Soldiers,” Martin said. “Living spaces lack sufficient heating and cooling, ventilation is nonexistent and site drainage is ineffective.”
Martin said these factors have contributed to mold and mildew issues, which have the potential to affect the health and quality of life for Fort Polk Soldiers.
“One Soldier, One Room” is Fort Polk's answer to the Army standard.
“The One Soldier, One Room concept provides a Soldier with a private room, kitchenette, latrine and large closet, achieving the square foot requirement established by Installation Management Command,” Martin said.
Renovations in the amount of $169 million are currently ongoing; contracts were awarded over a three year period, Martin said. He added the execution of the projects would not be possible without the ongoing contributions and support provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fort Worth and the local Eastern Area Office at Fort Polk.
“During renovations, DPW and the Corps of Engineers are addressing energy efficiency in the barracks, and reducing the amount of moisture in living spaces,” he said. “To achieve this goal, the plan is to replace the barracks’ brick façade with an exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS).”
Additionally, stairwell and courtyard spaces will be enclosed to provide climate control, Martin said.
“Rooms will have thermostat controls and new high efficiency windows will be installed,” he said.
Drainage and erosion are contributing factors to moisture problems in the barracks. Martin said plans are to redirect storm runoff, create better drainage systems and engineer building crawl spaces to prevent water retention.
When the 688 refurbished spaces come on line, it will still leave Fort Polk 231 rooms short to provide the IMCOM mandated “One Room, One Soldier.”
“We’ve validated that and on the Facility Investment Plan, we have new barracks scheduled for construction in fiscal years 23 and 24,” Greg Prudhomme, Fort Polk Directorate of Public Works, said. “This will offset that 231 room shortage and give us new or refurbished rooms for every enlisted Soldier.”
Martin said it is important that every leader and Soldier do their part to maintain the barracks after renovations are complete. He pointed to comments made by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston in an Army News story dated Oct. 13.
“Part of that responsibility falls on those who live in those facilities, but it also falls on leadership,” Grinston said. “With rooms changing hands regularly as young troops rotate through, leaders must regularly check where their troops live and address problems like mold, plumbing issues and derelict heating and cooling systems.”