“SOMEBODY HAS TO BE RESPONSIBLE”
February 25, 2019
In my 31 years in the Air Force, except for barracks life in basic training, tech school, officer training, Goose AB. Labrador, and Vietnam as a bachelor, I lived mostly on the economy; and after marrying, my family and I lived in on-base quarters only three times – at Barksdale AFB LA, and years later after returning from ‘Nam, at Wiesbaden, and later Ramstein ABs in Germany (a total of six years). Each time we moved into government family housing, the place was pretty clean and well-maintained. And, when we vacated each place, the base engineers literally did a “white glove” inspection.
To prepare for those inspections, you could hire a contractor or do it yourself. Being of meager means, I always did it myself, which meant disassembling the kitchen stove and scraping any burned or food drippings away with a razor blade and then washing it all down again. It means not only cleaning the bathroom fixtures, but polishing the porcelain after wiping away the Bon Ami. It means scrubbing the edges of the tile, wherever it was installed, with toothbrushes and even removing the gaskets around the refrigerator and clothes washer and then replacing them after ensuring that not a single latent crumb or bit of lint was clinging to the rubber folds. And, of course, you had to have cut the grass and trimmed the hedges to perfection. You had to follow the “inspector” around and answer his questions with care (while keeping your fingers crossed). It was a lot smoother to have contracted with the “cleaning crews” who I am certain gave the inspectors a kickback.
Now I see headlines and TV stories claiming that on-base/government-provided family quarters are in such poor repair as to make them uninhabitable and that they are filled with grime and dirt (and maybe worse). My question is: What happened? How did it happen? The base engineers used to have crews to repair the heating and AC, replace windows, doors, and broken appliances, etc. Don’t they do that anymore? How did “private contractors” get those “responsibilities” and who was supposed to monitor their performance?
As a base commander, my job included visits to the hospital, barracks, flight line facilities, and even the LOX plant (because the IG was certain to ask me to take him there just to ensure that I even knew where the LOX plant was). In every shop and at every stop, neatness and cleanliness would be noted and the activity CO would accompany me and take note and review our findings with me and my senior enlisted advisor. And, yes, we had a wartime mission also, that we cared deeply about. But cleanliness and good order reflected on the readiness and professionalism of the unit: individually, and as a whole.
So. Again, what the heck happened here? How can we expect our troops to move into a filthy, run-down set of quarters? Somebody has to be responsible – and that starts with Command! In my early years as an officer, I was with SAC and we had all sorts of formal IG inspections, as well as no-notices blitzes from numbered Air Force Hqs or even SAC itself. They always called us out at zero dark thirty and stayed for the better of a week. No punches were pulled, and more than once, I recall our wing commander being axed, sometimes because a couple aircrew members or nuclear weapons guys couldn’t recite their emergency procedures with enough precision. The only answer then was to be always ready, keep it clean and orderly, and ensure that your troops knew their stuff and looked neat and fit in their uniforms.
Your Colleague in Arms, Old Frank