Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Pete Hoffman, visited Fort Stewart today to see first-hand the condition of barracks here on the installation. In his role as CASA, Hoffman represents coastal Georgia.
Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield and 3rd Infantry Division leaders invited Hoffman to tour the barracks to convey their transparency and dedication to remediating the issues found on the installation.
Hoffman said the tour highlighted the Army and the installation’s commitment to taking care of Soldiers by making sure they have a safe and healthy place to live while recognizing the challenges.
“Going through these barracks and seeing it, I can tell you I learned a lot about what's being done,” Hoffman said. “I'm very happy to see that there are systems in place to take care of these problems and they're taken very, very seriously. It's not an easy solution. It's not an easy fix. We have old barracks. We have an environment here in this region that would lead to mold growth.”
The mold issue came to light earlier last month when 3rd ID Soldiers began voicing their concerns across various social media channels. Tackling the issue head on, installation leaders, partnered with the Directorate of Public Works, launched a ‘whole-of-community’ effort to remediate the mold and devise an action plan to combat future mold in our Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield barracks and facilities.
Hoffman reiterated the mold issue has been a long time in the making due to the environment, the age of the barracks, and the Army’s focus on war-time missions in recent past years. The efforts by the installation and 3rd Infantry Division to fight mold have not gone unnoticed, he added.
“It's clear that we've probably under invested in our barracks over a long period of time,” he said. “That's been addressed over the coming years there's going to be a lot more investment, significant investment, in fixing the barracks, but that's not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, everything that we saw today is going to help make sure the Soldiers are taken care of in a safe and healthy environment.”
Garrison commander Col. Manny Ramirez said renovations of the Voluntary Army Barracks-style buildings—built in the 1970s and the ones generally most affected by mold—are coming.
“The renovation for them is over the course of the next 10 years,” Ramirez said. “All of these will be renovated. In addition to that we're also pursuing funding and resources to build new barracks.”
Members of the news media accompanied the CASA on the tour to see several barracks rooms on Fort Stewart. Each room contained a different level of mold contamination ranging from Levels 1, 2, and 3, ranging from least to worst mold presence. Currently, the level 1 and 2 rooms are occupied with the level 3 being vacant as it currently undergoes the mold remediation process.
When asked by the media why he decided to visit Fort Stewart’s barracks, Hoffman said it was because concerns were raised to him on how mold was being addressed and if processes were being followed. Those concerns were assuaged.
“I wanted to make sure that those procedures were still in place and the command emphasis was still here,” he said. “And then from what I've seen, it is indeed. I’m very, very happy with what I saw today in both of those areas.”
Hoffman reiterated several times he would be bringing what he saw at Fort Stewart and the 3rd Infantry Division to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth’s attention.
Spc. Kiara Boazman, an automated logistics specialist with 3rd Infantry Division, said her room has mold that she routinely cleans based on the guidance from leaders, the facility managers, and the Directorate of Public Works. She also said vacant rooms are more likely to grow mold, or rooms where Soldiers do not routinely clean.
“It's progressing in some rooms but again, those are rooms that are vacant or sometimes the maintenance isn't kept up in an occupied room by Soldiers,” Boazman, who lives in the Fort Stewart barracks Hoffman toured said. “Or they're gone like multiple times, like for a long period of time, then it will occur more often.”
The long-term fix, Boazman said, would be to build new barracks or renovate the existing barracks.
“They can wait till we go on deployment and invest in getting new barracks,” she said. “I know it takes a lot of like time. That'd be cool.”
As of the tour, the installation had remediated 817 Level 1 cases; 83 Level 2 cases; and six Level 3 cases. Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield had 133 Level 1, 15 Level 2 and four Level 3 service orders open. Directorate of Public Works technical engineer and lead mold expert Bill McGovern explained the levels of mold. He also said sometimes what is reported as a 2 could become a 3 depending on the cause.
“Level 1 is zero to 10-square feet,” McGovern said. “Level 2 is 10-square feet 25 square feet, Level 3 is 25. And greater. That's not all-encompassing. There are outliers. If we have a Level 2 that's somewhat smaller, but we see it’s actually embedded into the building material, I'll get called. I'll do additional probes. Maybe we have it somewhere else. We're doing different things now where we're not treating the symptoms. We're actually trying to help find the cure.”
Finding the cure includes using the right cleaners and determining what is causing the mold to grow, McGovern said.
“We used to use regular cleaners that were bleach based, but recent studies specifically done by (Louisiana State University) show that hydrogen peroxide is actually better cleaner,” he said. “It not only kills the mold, but it leaves a better surface or surface less likely for mold to be able to recolonize on.”
Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army are business and community leaders appointed by the Secretary to advise and support Army leaders across the country. CASAs come from many professions including business, education, finance, industry, law, the media, medicine, and public service. Each is proactively involved in the community and brings to the position an interest in the Army, a high degree of business and civic leadership and an ability to influence the public.