Polk continues Army mandate to improve barracks life

By Chuck CannonNovember 15, 2022

Polk continues Army mandate to improve barracks life
The first renovated barracks in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division footprint is slated for a ribbon cutting on Nov. 17. The Directorate of Public Works aims to have the other seven barracks in the footprint completed by early spring. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. — In late 2019 the Army selected three installations for quality of life assessments to determine how it could improve services and increase the readiness and morale of Soldiers and their Families. They included Fort Polk, Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Wainwright, Alaska. In 2020, a fourth installation, Fort Hood, Texas, was added.

One of the areas targeted for revitalization and renovation were barracks. At Fort Polk, eight large-scale renovation efforts are nearing completion in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division footprint.

The first renovated barracks is slated for a ribbon cutting on Nov. 17. The Directorate of Public Works aims to have the other seven barracks completed by early spring.

“Recognizing that our Soldiers, civilians and Families should have the best quality of life possible, the Army is reviewing the full range of its care, support and enrichment programs, with an initial focus upon housing and barracks,” said Col. Sam Smith, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Polk. “Work on the project began in the fall of 2020 to improve housing conditions for Soldiers.”

The barracks renovation improves site and drainage improvements. The barracks is designed and constructed to house one soldier per room. The renovations will raise ceilings, improve lighting, and convert existing two-bedroom areas into larger one-bedroom suites. 

Barracks and quality of life are among the top priorities for the installation. To that end, the Army instructed senior leaders at every installation to conduct walk-through inspections of property at their sites to identify requirements for the annual Facility Investment Plan wargame in San Antonio in January 2023.

Barracks are a subset of the overall real property assessments to ensure planners, as part of the scheduled annual FIP process, have the most up-to-date information on all infrastructure to validate and prioritize requirements during the FIP wargame -- from barracks and office buildings to motor pools and quality of life facilities such as child development centers.

Fort Polk Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Nielson said the quality of Soldier barracks is an important component of the Army’s People priority and the walk-throughs will emphasize barracks as key to the overall infrastructure with Army leaders physically inspecting all barracks rooms, focusing on mold, and assessing any other health, safety or functionality issues that require immediate correction.

“We want to ensure healthy environments for Soldiers and will immediately take action on any issues that are adversely affecting Soldier readiness, resilience and quality of life,” Nielson said.

Betty Beinkemper, Fort Polk Housing Assistance Office chief, said the 100 percent room inspections are all-inclusive.

“We’ll look at structural conditions of walls, ceilings and doors; infrastructure assessments like electrical and plumbing; as well as environmental issues such as temperature, insects/pests, and mold/mildew,” Beinkemper said. “In addition, we will speak with the Soldiers in the barracks to address any concerns.”

During the inspections, the use of the Army Maintenance Application (ArMA) to submit work orders for immediate response any time a hazard is found within installation infrastructure will be stressed.

“It’s very user friendly for Soldiers and it’s the quickest way to get a work order put in for a problem,” Neilson said. “Of course, if it’s a major problem, we’ll get on that immediately.”

In addition to the 100 percent inspection of all property on an installation, Fort Polk conducts monthly “tiger team” inspections of barracks, where each room in a particular barracks is looked at and its occupants interviewed to isolate any problems.

“This let’s us know if there are particular problems that might be occurring across the board, and let’s us address them in a timely manner,” Neilson said.

Funds have been approved to begin construction on three new barracks after the renovation efforts on the eight current barracks are complete, which would give the installation enough barracks space to provide every single Soldier with a private room.

“Fort Polk has received $180 million for barracks improvements or construction,” Beinkemper said. “We want to make sure our Soldiers are well cared for and have the quality of life they deserve.”