02. March 2007 · Comments Off on Dump Sweet Dump · Categories: Air Force, Domestic, General, Home Front, Military, Pajama Game

Some heartburn noted this week in some quarters about the Washington Post story about the treatment and the living conditions of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Hospital, and why the milblogosphere is not having a conniption-fit over that, with many dark hints about how we would be screeching like a cage of howler-monkeys if it had happened under another administration.

Not having a background in medical administration, or any particular knowledge of the set-up at Walter Reed, or even personal knowledge of anyone undergoing treatment there, I’d have to defer involvement in this fracas… except for a comment on the reported decrepitude of the building where many of the out-patients were living. From the description it sounds like, and most probably is, a dump.

All of these might come as a surprise to the dear little civilian writers of the WaPo and it’s ilk, who see the nice, shiny public side of the gold-plated bases, and assume that the rest of the base, post or fort is similarly bright and shiny and new. Au contraire, as they say in France, and ‘twas ever thus: George Washington lived in a house at Valley Forge, but everyone else lived in something considerably less commodious.

The reason that no one in the mil-blogosphere is hyperventilating over that aspect of the story is that most of us have lived in, or did business in worse, during our time in service. Peeling paint, leaking plumbing, sagging floors, corroding pipes, herds of rampant vermin wandering untrammeled in cheap and badly-maintained structures that are two or three decades (or more) past their best-if-used-by date? Been there, done that, got a raft of horror stories of my own.

Let’s see, there was the old high school on Misawa AB, back in the days when it was a sleepy little Security Service base; it was housed in three long sheds which had been stables when Misawa AB was a Japanese Army cavalry post in the late 1930ies. On a hot summer day the place still smelled distinctly of horses. It was slated to be replaced during the Carter Administration, except that Jimmeh passed on the defense spending bill which would have paid for it; another good reason to despise him even before bungling the Iran Embassy hostage crisis. Even the relatively newer facilities on MAB then were no prize: famously the hospital barracks was in such bad shape that a guy once walked into the upstairs shower room and crashed straight through the floor into the downstairs shower room. This was the place where I developed my life-to-date habit of storing all non-refrigerated foodstuffs in sealed jars, since the barracks I lived in then had roaches. Lots and lots of roaches.

The infrastructure on Zaragoza AB wasn’t too awful— this was an Air Force Base, where we do cling to some standards— but the water pipes were so corroded that tap-water on base came out colored orange, about the color and consistency of Tang. People living in base housing spent a lot of money on bottled water.

The infrastructure at the Yongsan Garrison, ROK was not that much better. A couple of decades of living with the expectation of relocating the mission elsewere had left the electrical grid in such shakey condition as to make power-outages a part of the expected routine. The water pipes were so corroded that I earned fame everlasting on the day I walked into the Air Force female dorm bathroom and noticed that the shower-heads emitted a bare trickle. I took out my trusty Swiss-Army knife, unscrewed the shower-head-plate and emptied about a quarter of a cup of crud out of each. This was also the place where some of the Army troops were domiciled in Korean War-era Quonset huts. In the fall, CE had to hold training classes for the dorm managers to teach them how to run the antique kerosene heaters that warmed them… the heaters were so old that the average soldier would never in his or her life laid eyes on artifacts of such antiquity.

The AFRTS station building in Greenland had mice so tame that one of the board operaters tried to train them to sit up and beg for food. A broadcaster friend of mine who was stationed at a Pacific Island Navy base was warming a pan of canned chili in a saucepan, when a huge rat jumped into the hot chili… and jumped out again, and skittered down the hallway of the dorm, leaving little rat-footprints of chili con carne.

Maintenance of facilities; it’s one of those dull, dull issues that hardly anyone ever pays attention to except those who have to deal directly with it on a daily basis. It’s not one of those sexy military spending issues; it is more of enduring headache, for there is never quite enough money approved for a tenth of local needs. What there is, winds up being spread as thin as a pat of butter on an acre of toast.

Overseas bases, and facilities that are on the verge of being closed generally get last call; and I’d note that politicians and investagative reporters are usually among the first to make a lot of hay when there is money spent on an aging military facility about to be closed.

So call me grimly amused, when they are making hay about money not being spent on an aging military facility.

Just for the heck of it though, the next time I have an appointment at BAMC, here in San Antonio, I’ll snoop around and take a look at what the outpatient troop quarters look like… but the last time I looked, six months ago, they all looked pretty good.

Any recollections of infamously awful troop billets are invited, of course. Misery loves company.

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