The Army wants to reframe how soldiers think about mold after a rash of dismal living conditions and moldy barracks last year caused public outcry.
A new "counter mold operation" seeks to put responsibility on the rank and file for reporting moldy housing and also cleaning it, according to an internal Army document detailing training and talking points for troops that was reviewed by Military.com.
"Reframe how we think about mold," the document advises. "Teach others to understand mold as a normal part of our environment, and prevention of it as a routine part of life for every member of the total Army community."
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It also says, "Mold exists, and we have the tools to manage it."
Army planners are expected to roll out the new campaign soon in an effort to tackle the persistent mold growing in junior enlisted barracks across the force. The planning document shows how the service wants to message one of its top priority problems.
The campaign against mold could also include some much-needed relief for soldiers suffering through moldy housing -- a 24-hour response time when any soldier formally reports a mold issue in their barracks, as well as more training for maintenance workers.
The Army has come under intense congressional and public pressure to fix moldy barracks, after Military.com published a series of stories last year detailing the scope of the matter and as Army Secretary Christine Wormuth aims to make quality-of-life issues a legacy of her tenure.
The service is in the early stages of making mold mitigation as common a part of barracks maintenance as mopping, after Army planners met in January to hash out how to combat the mold and other living conditions issues that continue to make headlines.
The talking points, which emphasized that "every member of the Army community is a messenger," urged soldiers to take action "to clean or report" mold when it is identified. They also linked the Army's Maintenance Activity portal as a way to report and document pictures of mold.
"Clearly, mold is a challenge in Army facilities and family housing," Lt. Gen. Omar Jones, head of the Army Installation Management Command, told Military.com in an interview Friday.
Jones said the Army is making a number of changes. It is also ordering maintenance teams to make good on a 24-hour response time for any work order from a soldier that relates to mold.
Service maintenance teams -- typically civilian workers -- who usually respond to maintenance issues ranging from leaky faucets to mold discovery are now expected to go through more formal training on mold mitigation and response.
Soldiers interviewed by Military.com said work orders can go ignored for months or get haphazard responses, such as mold simply being painted over or the soldier being told to scrub it off when poor ventilation and other infrastructure conditions are causing the growth.
"I think the days of just living somewhere should be behind us," Jones said, referring to a culture in some pockets of the service where soldiers are expected to deal with their situations without complaint. "I want a consistent standard for work order[s] regarding mold; when someone puts in a work order, they should get a response in 24 hours. If not, I want [soldiers] to highlight that to their leadership, get the chain of command involved."
Army senior leaders have long said quality-of-life issues are a top concern.
In the Army's proposed budget for next year, the service is requesting $288 million to fund new barracks construction, a massive spike in cash from $49 million this year, outpacing growth in weapon programs and key training priorities such as National Training Center rotations.
That proposed funding, which still must be approved by Congress, comes after Wormuth has been increasingly lobbying lawmakers. Still, the money will cover only five new barracks buildings and is a drop in the bucket for what the service needs to significantly improve its living quarters.
A report last year from the Congressional Budget Office found that it would cost $11.2 billion to fix up living quarters just at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, which are generally considered to be in the worst shape.
As Congress and service leaders hash out how to pay for improvements, the Army appears to be pushing its soldiers to own the problem.
The document reviewed by Military.com told soldiers to inform their chains of command if they encounter mold. It said "people are also part of the solution; learning to properly identify, report and remediate mold is everyone's business."
"This is about taking care of our people," the final messaging point read, "the Army's number one priority. The health and welfare of our soldiers, civilians and families is the foundation of Army readiness."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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