Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ex-soldier recalls "bad barracks"

Bush's bad barracks tour
President Bush is in Fayetteville today to visit Ft. Bragg and inspect Army barracks -- including the site of the infamous "bad barracks" pictures the father of an 82nd Airborne trooper posted after units returning from the war found overflowing latrine facilities that gave soldiers an unwelcome welcome.
The Associated Press reported:
"FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - President Bush will tour the 82nd Airborne Division barracks where a paratrooper’s father shot video of substandard conditions, including sewage standing in a bathroom.
"Division spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt said Wednesday that Bush will tour the barracks during his Thursday visit to Fort Bragg. Bush is visiting the post for the division’s All-American-Week.
"Earnhardt said conditions at the barracks have “vastly improved” since the video was taken and posted online.
"Once on the Internet, the video spurred a widespread examination of conditions at Army barracks. The Secretary of the Army ordered an inspection of 148,000 Army barracks rooms and said the military would spent $248 million on repairs."

Those "vast improvements" would be welcomed by any soldier who spent hard time at Ft. Bragg. Conditions were bad at the barracks where I took my basic combat training 39 years ago in Company B, 10th Battalion, 2nd Basic Combat Training Brigade ("Bravo, Bravo, B-10-2; First You See the Rest, Now You See the Best!"). The barracks were left over from World War II training units. They were two-story firetraps built of pine, floored in some kind of red linoleum that never would take the shine the drill sergeants wanted. The barracks were covered in innumerable coats of white paint and so treacherously flammable that each platoon kept a fire guard patrolling inside the building all night long.
Of course, those were days when smoking was practically encouraged, so there was always a smoldering butt somewhere. A little pack of cigarettes came in every carton of C-rations, a carton of cigarettes sold for a buck or two at the PX and during short breaks Drill Sergeant Warner, a tough little runt with a heart of mold, would bark, "At ease! Smoke 'em if you got 'em. If you don't got 'em, get 'em from your neighbor. If you don't smoke, start!"
Basic was a good word for everything that happened there in the spring of 1969. We privates had no privacy. In the latrine, toilets were spaced about two feet apart. There were no partitions. You got to know your Army buddies pretty well.
I drove through Ft. Bragg about 10 years ago trying to find the old training company grounds and finally concluded that the Army had wisely torn down the old frame barracks. That would surely qualify as a "vast improvement." But I bet the low-crawl pit is still there somewhere waiting to provide recruits with a miserable, filthy experience in traveling on your stomach. Watch out, Mr. President. Those drill sergeants have no mercy.


Anonymous said...

If the person who took the photos of the "bad barracks" had moved his camera just a bit to the right or left, he would have taken in all of the new barracks being constructed. They are all over Ft. Bragg and how they were missed by the dad-photographer is beyond me.

Raphael said...

Why should it matter that new barracks are under construction? The fact that soldiers returning from war were housed in such deplorable conditions speaks for itself. Have you seen the video?

Anonymous said...

Did the unit not come home earlier than expected? I don't know about new barracks but if anyone comes prior to expectations, how can they expect the host to be ready?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Idiot Bush thought crappy quarters would make the soldiers want to hurry up and go back to Iraq.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the story, and to the letter you described my Ft. Campbell, Kentucky basic training barracks in 1971. I believe it must have been the standard everywhere back then. Today, my daughter showed her room to the President at Ft. Bragg. They are modern and put any college dorm to shame. She just returned from Afghanistan after 15 months, they lived in plywood shacks there.
Overall, at least there was a response to the bad barracks, we used to just live with it.
These brave warriors deserve better, all volunteers, and going in harms way without complaint.
God Bless these brave men and women.

H. Gardiner
Coral Springs, Florida

Anonymous said...

Army, '66'-'69', Ft. Dix, Ft. Gordon, Ft. Knox. Been back to all three! Change is obvious. Complaints of facilities will never change. It ain't home! Negative people are always complaining about something.

Oh yeah, we had fire watch because it's a historical requirement that links us to the 'boys' in Valley Forge as well as part of it's a part of the 'training' folks!

Ps. you have A 'fire watch' in your homes, called a smoke detecter!

Key West

Anonymous said...

Reading your article on basic training at Ft. Bragg brought back some mixed emotions of my experience there for basic training in 1969. Never forget B-5-1 and my RA#. Everytine I hear Sweet Caroline or Joe Fish I have flashbacks of Ft. Bragg and basic. Also remember quite well the nights spent on Fire Guard! I went into basic thinking that since thousands had preceeded me and most had survived, it couldn't be too bad. As I approach 60 I can confirm that nothing before or since has been as physically or mentally challenging as that experience was and that includes a year spent in SE Asia immediatelty following basic. Enjoyed the article.

Anonymous said...

Reading your article on basic training at Ft. Bragg brought back some mixed emotions of my experience there for basic training in 1969. Never forget B-5-1 and my RA#. Everytine I hear Sweet Caroline or Joe Fish I have flashbacks of Ft. Bragg and basic. Also remember quite well the nights spent on Fire Guard! I went into basic thinking that since thousands had preceeded me and most had survived, it couldn't be too bad. As I approach 60 I can confirm that nothing before or since has been as physically or mentally challenging as that experience was and that includes a year spent in SE Asia immediatelty following basic. Enjoyed the article.

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Anonymous said...

You know, I was stationed at Ft Knox KY in 74 and the barracks then were in pristine condition. Both the Newer barracks and the old wood ones. Floors shined, latrines were spotless and worked perfectly. Ever think maybe that some soldiers are letting stuff go down the drains to clog them causing flooding. Since the showers have no stop to hold the water back it flows out to the drins in the sink area. Or maybe it's a case of roots getting into the drain tiles causing them to clog up? Who knows? But, To the person refering to Bush as an "Idiot" you must be a democrat. Your ignorance shows in your post.

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Anonymous said...

Ditto: "D-10-2 best around, combat ready, vietnam bound" 1969 fort bragg. those barracks were fire traps but I have a lot of memories raking the sand in straight lines, police call of the area, sneeze sheets, butt cans, color coded boots, red clay for dirt, the last company to use the M-14. the good old days.

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