Full barracks in Vicenza means hotels for troop
Stars and Stripes June 20, 2007
VICENZA, Italy — Roughly 300 single soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team returning to Vicenza from Afghanistan will be housed in local hotels because the base does not have enough barracks rooms.
Most of those destined for the hotels are soldiers slated to transfer from Vicenza to other duty stations within the next 90 to 120 days, according to 1st Sgt. Richard Howell, the brigade’s Vicenza rear detachment noncommissioned officer in charge. Others are soldiers who reported with the unit shortly before they deployed to Afghanistan 15 months ago, and had yet to find a place to live.
The unit, when it deployed, was at 100 percent staffing, said Lt. Col. Todd Johnston, the 173rd rear detachment commander. It’s now overmanned for several reasons:
Those slated for a Permanent Change of Station must stay with the unit for a minimum of three months because of an Army policy to not move them too soon after they return from a combat zone.Soldiers slated to replace those who are PCSing already are here.Some soldiers were affected by the Army’s stop-loss program, keeping them on active duty beyond the date they set to leave the Army.None of those reasons sit well with Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird, who is still in Afghanistan.
"We get back to Italy and I get off the bus. I turn in my weapon and then what? I get on a bus and get a ride to the hotel. Seven days later we go on block leave," he said. "All my personal belongings I mailed from Afghanistan and the stuff I’m hand carrying, along with all my military equipment — am I supposed to leave that in the hotel for a month?
"Before we deployed, they packed up the barracks. All my stuff is in storage. How I do get my personal stuff? They can’t deliver household goods to a hotel room," he wrote in an e-mail. "I specifically asked my first sergeant about this. His response was to go buy new clothes, etc."
The solution isn’t perfect, rear detachment leaders said. But they immediately dismissed the idea of "cramming" four or five soldiers in a barracks room designed for one or two people, said Johnston.
"It was a quality-of-life issue for us," Johnston said. "We opted not to shoehorn them into barracks. … After 15 months of living next to your buddy’s stinky boots, we didn’t want to do that."
Unit leaders expect that all soldiers who live in hotels will have permanent housing within four months.
While the 173rd has been fighting in Afghanistan, the rear detachment has been busy making $3.8 million worth of improvements to the barracks. They include motion-sensor lights in barracks entryways, bunk-style beds with storage on top instead of another bed, and dual-controlled air conditioning systems in two-man rooms so each occupant can control their own settings, Howell said.
Soldiers also will return to a new bowling center, expanded gymnasium, and renovated education center.
The USO building, with entertainment and Internet features, will extend its hours until at least 10 p.m., and open its kitchen to soldiers who want to cook their own meals, said director Linda Lorenzana. For those who aren’t keen on cooking, however, she and Lauren Christen plan to restart their tradition of offering home-cooked meals, they said. In the past, they have served upwards of 40 soldiers.
The Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers center also received a face-lift, and soldiers can expect to lounge in new comfortable couches in the movie room, or tackle cooking in the spacious and upgraded kitchen, said Spc. Richard Capers, the B.O.S.S. president.