Citing Fort Bragg Conditions, U.S. Army Broadens Barracks Inquiry

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 11:33 AM EDT

In case you haven't seen it, check out the video to the right for a look at the conditions of the 82nd Airborne Division's barracks at Fort Bragg. The footage was taken by Ed Frawley, the outraged father of one of the soldiers living there—a soldier who, along with the rest of his unit, had just returned from a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan, most of it spent at a remote firebase in the mountains. I hazard to guess that upon their return to North Carolina, some of the soldiers may have experienced pangs of nostalgia for the relative comfort of a combat post.

In response to the controversy brought on by the Fort Bragg video, the Army has announced an audit of all its barracks worldwide. According to Brigadier General Dennis Rogers, the officer in charge of barracks maintenance, initial inspections were carried out last weekend. The results have not yet been released. According to the Associated Press:

Rogers said it was too soon to know whether the Fort Bragg problem was an isolated incident. He acknowledged the revelations from a video shot by the father of an 82nd Airborne Division soldier showing poor conditions such as mold inside the barracks, peeling interior paint and a bathroom drain plugged with sewage...

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"We let our soldiers down, and that's not like us," Rogers told reporters. "We let our soldiers down. That's not how we want America's sons and daughters to live. There's no good excuse for what happened."

He said the problems in that building have been fixed and that a final paint job is in the works. It is one of 24 barracks at Fort Bragg that were built in the 1950s and are scheduled for demolition by 2013. The barracks singled out by Frawley had been remodeled in April 2006, Rogers said.

Rogers said the Army's standard procedure is to inspect a barracks building to verify that it meets Army standards before it is occupied by soldiers returning from an overseas deployment. For reasons he was unable to explain, that apparently did not happen in the Fort Bragg incident.

On that note, the mystery of how things do or do not happen within the Pentagon bureaucracy is the subject of a piece by Scott Paltrow in the May issue of Portfolio magazine. In a nutshell, says Paltrow, the Pentagon can't keep track of its money, leaving billions of dollars of expenditures undocumented... every year. An excerpt from the piece:

Since 2004, the Pentagon has spent roughly $16 billion annually to maintain and modernize the military's business systems, but most are as unreliable as ever—even as the surge in defense spending is creating more room for error. The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it's virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department's brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can't be...

For the first three quarters of 2007, $1.1 trillion in Army accounting entries hadn't been properly reviewed and substantiated, according to the Department of Defense's inspector general. In 2006, $258.2 billion of recorded withdrawals and payments from the Army's main account were unsupported. It's as if the Army had submitted multibillion-dollar expense reports without any receipts.

With problems like this, is it any wonder that someone in the Army's sprawling infrastructure forgot to inspect the Fort Bragg barracks before populating it with weary combat veterans?