Military housing at Camp LeJeune, pictured in 2012, was heavily damaged last year during Hurricane Florence last fall. Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Peterson/U.S. Marine Corps
Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The Marine Corps and Navy have issued directives to fix problems with on- and off-base housing in the wake of reports of poor conditions at all military branches.
More than half of families rated housing "very negative" or "negative" in a recent online survey, and military spouses earlier this month detailed problems during congressional hearings, including faulty wiring, lead paint, mold, poor water quality and pestilence.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Military.com that her branch, along with the Army and Navy, supports a tenant bill of rights that would provide troops with protection as well as more power in handling housing problems.
The Marines put changes into force last week.
In a "white letter" signed Friday, Marine Corps commanders and senior enlisted leaders were ordered to request a voluntary home visit by April 15 with each Marine and sailor in their command who resides in government quarters, privatized military housing or an off-base civilian rental property.
"I expect commanders to know where their Marines and sailors are living and to actively advocate on their behalf," Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote in the letter. "Our members and their families should know their leaders care for their well-being and are both ready and willing to help."
The intent of the visits, Neller said, are threefold:
1) Determine the units are "safe, secure and environmentally healthy."
2) Identify maintenance and safety issues, actions to be take to remedy them and the chain of command to assist in the resolution process.
3) Ensure Marines and their families understand support processes and programs available, including the Marine Housing outreach Program.
"The center of gravity of our readiness is our Marines and their families -- caring for them is fundamental to our ethos," Neller wrote. "We must continue to personally invest in the lives and welfare of our Marines and their families. This commitment requires understanding their living condition."
Although the visits are voluntary, the command will still address housing concerns.
"As we have discovered, in some cases the condition of our government and public private venture family housing is not where it should be," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russ Smith, wrote Saturday to subordinates in a detailed memo. "The government role in the privatized partnership arrangement became too passive, leaving the day-to-day operation of the housing program to the residents and the private partners."
They said they "realize this is a big undertaking" but "it is essential to ensure our sailors and their families have the basics of a quality life."
Smith testified at a Feb. 7 hearing on Quality of Life issues in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. Smith told lawmakers the Navy wasn't seeing "the same sort of systemic issues and complaints" that were plaguing the other services.
A hearing also was conducted Feb. 13 before the Senate Armed Services Committee's Joint Subcommittee on Personnel and Readiness and Management Support on privatized military housing.
Two days later, Phyllis L. Bayer, the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and the environment, toured the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune to check out housing at the North Carolina base, which is rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
"I do believe that Camp Lejeune has stronger and bigger challenges because of Hurricane Florence," Bayer told a group of military spouses, the Camp Lejeune Globe reported. "It takes so long to recover from hurricanes, so we appreciate your patience and service as Marine wives."
Hurricane Florence impacted installations on the East Coast, dumping more than 35 inches of rain in some areas.
"Our Marines deserve better and our families deserve better," Rosie Sonnier, a military spouse and nine-year resident of Camp Lejeune, told the Camp Lejeune Globe. "One thing that I firmly believe is that family readiness is mission readiness."