Faced with rampant mold in unbearably hot barracks, airmen at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea came up with one way to grudgingly endure: a raffle that would allow at least one service member to get a new air conditioning unit.
An image of a flier taped in a dorm hall shared on the popular Amn/NCO/SNCO Facebook page, where airmen often go to vent and share insider information anonymously about their duty stations, showed an advertisement for donations for a "Bake & Raffle" in which troops could donate money to receive a pastry and be entered into a drawing for a "BRAND NEW A/C UNIT."
The raffle comes as service members stationed at Kunsan are experiencing widespread mold, inconsistent hot water and sporadic air conditioning in their barracks, according to complaints from service members circulating online this month.
Images of black and green mold patches on ceiling tiles, as well as indoor thermostats reading anywhere from 87 to 90 degrees, have also been posted for several weeks on the Amn/NCO/SNCO page.
"The dorm situation is a constant nightmare and there's not enough $$$ or manpower to keep up with the rate of decline in the garbage facilities," one commenter wrote.
A spokesperson at Kunsan, which is home to the service's 8th Fighter Wing and roughly 2,800 personnel, confirmed the authenticity of images showing mold in the dorms and said it is a constant issue on the base.
"Our location's high humidity and proximity to the coast can make keeping facilities cool and dry an uphill battle, but we remain committed to ensuring our Airmen are equipped with the proper tools to prevent and mitigate the presence of mold/mildew," Capt. Kaylin Hankerson, a spokesperson for Kunsan, wrote in an email.
"The appropriate facility managers have been made aware of any mold/mildew maintenance required at this time and such issues will be addressed based upon the facilities' priority and supply availability," she added.
Hankerson also confirmed that the base's central air conditioning units are under significant stress and have to be frequently repaired due to Korea's climate. There was "one facility temporarily without A/C while the building's HVAC system was being repaired."
The air conditioning in that building has since been restored, she said. But as sporadic outages of the cooling systems and frequent repairs happen in the dorms, some airmen felt the need to get creative.
Hankerson said that the raffle was not organized by base officials.
"With the best intentions, Airmen who are a part of an unofficial private organization rallied together to try to help their own while HVAC systems were undergoing repair," she said.
Hankerson told Military.com that the base has invested more than "$5.2 million into overhauling base HVAC systems" in 2022 alone.
In response to the mold and heat issues, Kunsan has passed out dehumidifiers for every dorm and office space. However, unoccupied spaces such as hallways or stairwells "may not be equipped with dehumidifiers nor climate-controlled," Hankerson added.
Airmen have also complained about sporadic hot water outages in their living facilities. Base officials said, "while Airmen may have experienced a temporary hot water outage," the issue has been fixed. The last outage was July 7, according to Hankerson, and was fixed shortly after it was reported.
Issues of mold, A/C outages and even flooding are not new to Kunsan. In 2020, officials from the 8th Fighter Wing conducted inspections and welfare checks of the dorm after similar reports of mold and moisture issues began to surface online.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr. made a visit to Kunsan on Aug. 12, where he visited with airmen and base leaders, according to a press release from the service.
Maj. Nicole Ferrara, an Air Force spokeswoman for Brown, said he was made aware of the problems.
"Gen Brown is aware; he discussed quality of life concerns with leaders and Airmen during his recent visit to Kunsan Air Base," Ferrara said in an emailed statement. "Air Force leaders are committed to providing healthy and safe living environments for Airmen and all base residents."
Earlier this month, the Army announced that 1,200 soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, would be evacuated after an inspection found the buildings were unlivable due to mold issues and air conditioning issues. Those service members are still residing in those barracks as officials determine where to move the troops.
In May, junior sailors stationed at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, were left scrambling to find housing after the closure of two of the base's barracks so the service could "conduct much needed repairs and renovations,"a base spokeswoman said at the time.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a comment from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr.'s office that was provided after publication.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.