NORFOLK, Va. — A few years back, Staff Sgt. Kevin Washington was on the ground in Iraq with a team of Special Forces soldiers tasked with kicking in doors and questioning suspected insurgents.
"It was very dangerous," he said.
Dangerous, but not nearly as... icky... as the problem before him now — a growing rodent infestation in his military townhouse.
Washington, 30, and his wife, 26-year-old Latoya Washington, said Lincoln Military Housing, the private company that manages the Willoughby Bay townhome complex, has been unable to fix the problem, which surfaced last spring.
It's gotten worse since then, they said. The Army couple reported catching more than a dozen mice inside their O'Conner Crescent home in the past month and have photos and a stack of maintenance orders to support the claim.
The vermin have chewed through bags of pancake mix and left droppings in their pantry. The Washingtons have found a mouse floating in a vase of water and another in the mouth of their Labrador retriever.
"It's disgusting," Latoya Washington said. "Nobody wants to live like that." The Washingtons have been in their townhome for about a year and a half.
Three other families who live in the same row of attached townhomes told a reporter that they've also seen critters scurry across their kitchen floors and have heard them scratching inside their walls.
Lincoln has responded to the Washingtons' complaints by sending workers to patch holes where mice have chewed through drywall and by hiring an exterminator to lay down glue traps.
"Our service record shows that we have been very responsive," said Trent Duffy, a Lincoln spokesman, noting that Orkin had made multiple trips to the home. No other residents of that building have formally complained of mice, he said.
The Navy owns the property and works with Lincoln to answer residents' concerns. Capt. David A. Culler Jr., commanding officer of Norfolk Naval Station, said in a statement that the Navy has worked toward a solution and "will continue to serve as the advocate for this family."
The Washingtons are growing impatient. When the infestation seemed to worsen this fall, the couple asked Lincoln to pay for their move to another military housing complex. The management company declined the request.
"They tried telling us this is normal because we live by water," said Kevin Washington, an information technology specialist at NATO's Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk. "They're so lackadaisical about it. When they go home at night, they don't have to live with this like we do."
Citing the terms of its agreement with the Navy, Lincoln explained its decision in a statement Sunday: "This kind of situation is not sufficient to trigger compensation for a voluntary relocation."
In Iraq, Washington's job was to hold a video camera to document the work of heavily armed Special Forces soldiers as they forcibly entered the homes of suspected insurgents.
At home in Norfolk, he's responsible for disposing of squirming mice after they become caught on one of the many sticky traps scattered throughout his townhouse.
"Oh, God, it's still alive!" Latoya Washington shrieked as her husband lifted a mouse from behind their stove Thursday.
They worry their 2-year-old son might pick up a dead mouse or droppings. "This is a health hazard," Latoya Washington said.
Two doors down, Deamaris Morales said she has gotten pretty good at trapping mice and swatting them with a broom. She has killed more than 10, she said, since moving into the townhouse with her sailor husband a couple of years ago.
"It's like a part of life here," Morales said.
Other residents from the eight units in the row of townhouses said they've had the same problem. "If it's not one thing, it's something else," said Mesha Benson, who lives in the unit adjacent to the Washingtons.
Lincoln has a long-term lease arrangement with the government under a 1996 privatization initiative aimed at maintaining and improving the military's aging housing stock. The Texas-based company manages about 4,400 rental units in the region in a public-private partnership with local military bases.
The Willoughby Bay complex has about 380 units.
The Washingtons and other residents in their community also complained of unresolved maintenance problems and mold inside their 1960s-era townhouses, echoing widespread complaints first raised publicly in December 2011.
The mold issue, a potential health hazard, has spurred a series of lawsuits against Lincoln. Nine such cases are pending in federal and state courts, and 40 more are in the works, said David Bailey, the Richmond attorney who represents many of the families.
The Washingtons said they haven't ruled out legal action.
The couple spent the weekend packing their belongings. Although Lincoln has declined to pay for it, they plan to move into another Lincoln-managed apartment complex in Portsmouth before their families come into town for Thanksgiving.
"We can't host guests here," Latoya Washington said. "We can't have people sleeping on the floor here. What do I look like, feeding you Thanksgiving dinner with mouse traps and droppings all over the freakin' place?"