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Senator: Guard members in Qatar are living in unacceptable conditions

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM | The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 26, 2016

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is adding her voice to those raising alarm about the unhealthy living conditions for American servicemembers — including New Hampshire Guardsmen — at a military base in Qatar.

Her comments came during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on the nomination of Brad Carson to serve as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Ayotte, who chairs the Readiness and Management Support subcommittee, said her office has received reports of "unacceptable" living conditions at Al Udeid Air Base, where about 100 New Hampshire Air National Guardsmen are stationed in support of the fight against the Islamic State group.

Problems with black mold have plagued the base for years, according to published reports.

"I recently learned that our airmen ... are being forced to live in potentially unhealthy facilities and may be getting sick from black mold exposure," Ayotte told Carson. "Despite efforts by the local command there, and repeated requests of our airmen, the situation's not been fixed."

Ayotte said she has been told that black mold "is coming out of showers, it's in the bathrooms, it's in the curtains, and that some of our airmen are becoming sick and having symptoms as a result of it."

Maj. Gen. William Reddel, adjutant general of the Guard, saw the living conditions, and the mold, firsthand when he visited New Hampshire airmen at the base last November.

"I spoke to the base commander and he has been trying to address this issue, which has been years in the making, as best as he can, to include a replacement plan for the most severely affected housing units," Reddel said Thursday.

"No airman, let alone any soldier, Marine or sailor, should be exposed to this kind of living condition," Reddel said in a statement. "This can have a detrimental effect on morale and negatively impact the mission.

"Rather than place blame, it's important to provide the necessary resources as soon as possible and fix the problem," Reddel said.

At Thursday's hearing, Ayotte asked for a commitment to address the problem.

"I don't want to hear from my Guard that they're getting sick from mold. Obviously, they put their lives on the line," she said.

Carson replied that this was the first he had heard of the problem but he promised to take immediate action.

If confirmed, he told Ayotte, "I will immediately look into it and try to have something back to you by the end of next week with an explanation of what we're doing and mitigation strategy. ..."

swickham@unionleader.com
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Sen. Kelly Ayotte, chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support subcommittee, attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2016. Ayotte raised concerns on Thursday, Feb. 25, about living conditions for servicemembers at a military base in Qatar.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

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