Soldiers gather for a 2019 awards ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Soldiers gather for a 2019 awards ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Joshua Cowden/U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — Some 200 Fort Bragg soldiers were forced from their barracks this month after mold was found in two buildings housing troops with the 528th Special Operations Sustainment Brigade on the Army post in North Carolina, service officials said Thursday.

An air-quality inspection by Fort Bragg’s Department of Public Works was conducted Oct. 10 after a soldier’s report of mold spurred 1st Special Forces Command leaders to order the troops out of the two impacted barracks buildings, according to Maj. Dan Lessard, a spokesman for the command that oversees the 528th Special Operations Sustainment Brigade. Lessard said that as of Thursday, none of the affected soldiers had displayed illnesses nor other issues related to the mold, but officials were continuing to monitor their health.

“Our soldiers are our most valuable asset, and it is our responsibility to protect their health and welfare,” Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of 1st Special Forces Command, said in a prepared statement. “This issue has the full attention of our entire command team, and we are continuing to work with DPW to resolve these issues as soon as possible.”

The displaced soldiers were moved to other units’ barracks on post or to hotels in the area. Lessard said only 18 soldiers remained in off-post hotels of the 103 who initially were placed in them on Oct. 10. He said the Army expected to find barracks on Fort Bragg for those soldiers by the weekend.

The mold in heating and air conditioning systems first was reported by a soldier through an online tool 1st Special Forces Command leaders set up to allow their troops to report grievances anonymously, to ask questions or to share ideas.

Lessard said officials issued a “short notice” alert to the troops to move to alternate lodging “because the command team concluded after conducting leader walk-throughs and air-quality surveys that the conditions warranted immediate action.”

The base Department of Public Works has begun addressing the mold issues and expects to complete its fixes in 45 to 60 days, said Elvia Kelly, a spokeswoman for Fort Bragg.

Military housing has been a hot-button issue for leaders in the Army and other services in recent years as they have worked to address widespread reports of problems including mold, infestations and disrepair in housing facilities at posts worldwide. Most of those issues have been reported in on-post family housing units run by private companies, but the Army also has signaled it plans to make major improvements to its approximately 6,700 barracks facilities.

Last week, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, the service’s top enlisted soldier, announced the Army will seek some $9.6 billion for repairs and construction of Army barracks during the next decade.

But Grinston also said soldiers had the responsibility to ensure their living quarters were maintained. If there were a problem in his housing, he said, he would demand it be fixed.

“We have to demand the same thing in our barracks,” he said. “You have to do your part to maintain the barracks … If something is not right, demand — not just ask — demand that we fix it.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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