Troops interviewed by Task & Purpose at Fort Liberty confirmed that overflowing dumpsters of garbage are strewn across the North Carolina base with virtually no communication from officials on the situation or potential clean-ups.
Several confirmed the authenticity of trash photos posted on social media sites including the Instagram page, “fancy_fancy_bear.” Pictures reveal multiple sites, many next to barracks, where heaps of trash are piled up high inside of dumpsters with dozens of trash bags, pizza boxes and even a sofa surrounded them at sites around base.
One soldier said that trash has been accumulating without proper removal for months.
“This has been a slow build,” the soldier said. “What the units have been doing is having the guys get out there and stomp the trash down and throw it in trucks and take it places.”
A second soldier told Task & Purpose that his unit was told that they would have to walk about a mile to throw away their trash.
“The trash is like this all over post. Outside barracks, offices… if there’s a dumpster on post, it’s overflowing,” the mother of a soldier stationed at Fort Liberty who visited over the weekend told Task & Purpose in an email.
April Olsen, a spokesperson for the base said that Fort Liberty is aware of the delays and is working to resolve it. Olsen said that the contractor in charge of trash pick-up “is experiencing equipment problems and is working at a reduced capacity.”
“Our priority is taking care of our people and we are doing everything to expedite the removal of the refuse which is currently ongoing,” she said. “We are notifying our community of this issue and are working to ensure those who work and live on this installation are taken care of.”
A solicitation posted on Jan. 29 shows that Fort Liberty is seeking a contractor for waste management services for the base and surrounding area associated with the military installation. The work includes trash collection, transportation, recycling, removal and disposal for an average of 25,000 tons of trash per year, according to solicitation documents.
One soldier told Task & Purpose that their Command Sergeant Major told them during formation that the base’s trash company was fired without a replacement lined up.
Trash pickup resumed late last week with priority pick up at barracks, child development centers, dining facilities and medical facilities. It will take up to a week for the regular trash collection to resume, Olsen said.
Focus on Quality of Life
The trash build-up is the latest example of barracks issues plaguing troops at military bases across the U.S. that were highlighted in a scathing government report that found that housing for junior enlisted troops posed “serious health and safety risks.” The problems have also caught the attention of Congress which stood up the House Armed Services Committee’s Quality of Life panel which held a hearing on Department of Defense installations last week.
Soldiers also said that the private company involved in trash removal specifically won’t remove overflow garbage in the front of the base dumpsters.
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A junior officer told Task & Purpose he has grown frustrated thinking about having to order his own soldiers to clean up the mess.
“It’s going to be our dudes picking up this mess because [Directorate of Public Works] is going to complain about not having clear dumpsters,” the officer said. “The underlying issue is garrison leadership and high-level leaders that never take the time to actually walk through a battalion’s footprint when it’s not clean sweep, when we’re not making everything nice and pretty for them.”
The officer’s comments echo a similar situation that the Government Accountability Office reported with troops being forced to clean up “biological waste” left behind by the suicides of fellow servicemembers. In a letter addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a group of bipartisan lawmakers accused the Pentagon of failing to “provide the most basic oversight and care” for troop barracks.
Accountability for barracks conditions and general quality of life issues for junior enlisted members was a topic in front of Congress last week. When service installation officials testified to Congress last week, they said they were not aware of anyone fired for failing barracks conditions.
“If a soldier was late to formation or lost a weapon, they’d be in deep trouble,” one soldier said. “But if an army contracting person doesn’t create a mechanism for fixing these problems in the contract, are they held accountable for it? Probably should be.”
Issues across barracks have gained congressional attention in recent months because of its impact on retention and recruiting – a problem that’s hitting the Army the hardest.
“This is the stuff that dudes remember, ” the Lieutenant said while looking at three overflowing dumpsters for the barracks. “The organization continues to shoot itself in the foot with stuff like this and it’s incredibly frustrating to see it and then also have people wonder why we can’t recruit.”
Soldiers also angrily referred to previous comments by Army Maj. Gen. James P. Isenhower III who called moldy barracks a “discipline problem.”
“It’s really rubbing me the wrong way that we can’t even provide the basic level of public sanitation for people that we are expecting to deploy anywhere in 18 hours,” the Lieutenant said. “At that point you might as well get out and just go to the civ side because at least you expect your city to give a shit to bring your trash out and you even pay them for that.”
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