Military spouses protest housing conditions at Fort Bragg
By MICHAEL FUTCH | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: April 15, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — While first lady Melania Trump and second lady Karen Pence visited Fort Bragg on Monday, a half-dozen military wives gathered by the All American Freeway, which leads to one of the main post gates, to protest what they say are unfit housing conditions.
In recognition of the Month of the Military Child, the appearance by Trump and Pence was scheduled to include a visit with students at Albritton Middle School on Fort Bragg.
“Right now, they’re thanking the children for their service for Month of the Military Child,” said Tamara Terry, 26, who organized the roadside protest at noon. “We would rather them be thanked for their service with livable housing and healthy children. Children in military families are 25% more likely to serve their country than the average child. Not only are they poisoning current servicemembers, but they’re poisoning future servicemembers.”
Residents at Fort Bragg and other installations have raised concerns about numerous issues, including widespread mold, lead paint, backed-up ventilation systems and falling ceilings in their military housing.
Fort Bragg has conducted tests for mold and has taken other steps to address concerns, post officials have said.
In February, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, directed installations across the country to host town hall meetings and walk through military housing to identify issues. The directive followed media reports of questionable living conditions and a survey that showed that more than half of the residents who responded were unsatisfied with the quality of their private military housing.
The six women, joined by a couple of young children and two dogs, stood near the exit for the Santa Fe Drive overpass. Traffic streamed by and, on occasion, a vehicle honked in support of their grassroots cause.
Handmade signs were mounted to the back hatches of a Dodge Journey and a Ford Escape, and the women also held placards that said such things as:
• “Sick soldiers can’t keep America Great! MilKidsCount / We deserve better!!!”
• “Why do we have to live like this?”
• “We are Black and Gold Not Black and Mold!!!!”
• “Everything in our housing went up — Number of Roaches, Mold, Leaks ... Corvias, Do your job!!!”
MilKids is short for military kids.
Corvias is the property management contractor on post.
One of the protesters said she attributed the small turnout to military spouses’ fear of a backlash from higher-ups or retaliation from their respective units.
“It’s not just my family affected. It’s a lot of people’s families,” said Cacee Nesbit, 25. “It’s our voice. A lot of people need a voice. People are scared.”
Nesbit said her family moved out of their Fort Bragg home in the Bataan housing neighborhood on April 4 after they received results from a March 8 mold test. The family lived in a hotel for five days, she said, before moving into a hospitality suite.
The Nesbits are waiting on new housing.
“We have mold and water damage,” she said. “I think when our husbands are deployed, they shouldn’t have to worry about their wives and children being home sick.”
Nesbit said she has a 7-year-old daughter who has had health issues and tested positive for mold allergy symptoms in February.
Late last month, Fort Bragg officials said they estimated that between 1% and 2% of the 6,150 homes in the installation’s family housing program have “significant challenges” that need to be addressed. On March 27, Fort Bragg officials and a representative of Corvias provided an update of what had been done so far.
Since the directive, 27 families had been relocated, according to Sharon Shores, Corvias’ director for Fort Bragg.
Terry and her family have been living in a hotel for approximately three weeks “because we have unlivable conditions at home,” she said. “Rotted wood, water damage, black mold.”
The family had been living on post in the Nijmegen housing area.
She and her husband have three children: 7- and 4-year-olds and a baby, five weeks.
“My oldest son had a cough for about five months and my daughter about three months,” said Terry, who was supporting her younger son in a baby sling during the protest. “We’d take them to the doctor and were told it was a cold or fever. You don’t keep a cold for five months.”
Terry said that she, too, has been afflicted with numerous medical conditions that she never had before living in Fort Bragg housing.
Top Army officials have directed Fort Bragg and other military installations to look into the issue, and congressional leaders have visited posts — including Fort Bragg — to meet with families and to walk through their homes.
Fort Bragg officials and Corvias representatives have apologized during town hall meetings and vowed to address concerns. Corvias has said it is hiring more people and is revising operations to address problems better.