Editor’s Note: This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.
A new app for mobile devices developed by an Army Reserve veteran this year ranks military barracks and dining facilities on a star system similar to Yelp.
The app, Hots&Cots, was developed by former Staff Sgt. Rob Evans, a software developer, who served in the Reserve and North Carolina National Guard for 12 years.
During a Zoom interview Monday from his Charlotte-area home, Evans said the idea for the app started with a conversation with a friend who’s also served in the military.
“Knowing that I’m third generation military, my dad and my grandfather were in the military, he asked me would I ever be OK with my kids if they wanted to join the military,” Evans said. “I said, ‘I wouldn’t feel that comfortable based off the situation with the barracks and things that we see within the dining facilities.’”
Soon after the conversation, the Government Accountability Office released a 118-page report in September detailing concerns about barrack conditions at 10 military installations across the U.S., including problems with mold, bedbugs, sewage and broken heating and air conditioning systems.
Evans said that in further discussion with his friend, the idea for the Yelp-like app to review barracks and dining facilities was born.
Evans said that while the military has processes for reporting issues, the general public doesn’t have access to the military’s reviews, and the issues still seem to continue.
At the same time, Evans said, Hots&Cots is a place where positive feedback can be left, too.
“People go to dining facilities, and they get really subpar food and to pay for it, they don’t have a choice and we wanted to raise awareness on OK, these are some really great dining facilities and these are some not so great dining facilities,” he said.
Evans said the app is for all military branches and has barracks and dining facilities from 240 military installations worldwide. It is free, and users can anonymously leave reviews, he said.
“I don’t want soldiers to be hesitant of posting content or worried about repercussions because that’s, that’s what I’m very sensitive to because I know a lot of soldiers are afraid to speak up because they’re worried about repercussions,” Evans said.
On the dining facility “hots” tab in the app, users can post one photo, leave a review and provide additional information for questions on the facility’s cleanliness, if the food was cooked properly, if the facility is near barracks or a shuttle stop, among other prompts.
On the barracks “cots” tab, users are asked about cleanliness, safety and if there are mold or pest issues among other questions.
How Fort Liberty facilities rate on the app
Since the app went live in October, the Special Warfare Center Dining Facility and School on Fort Liberty has received five out of five stars for a positive rating, while the Panther Inn dining facility has one star and a photo showing what appears to be a partially raw chicken tender.
The Smoke Bomb Hill barracks, which will be mostly demolished after leaders deemed them substandard and moved out 1,100 soldiers last August and September, has a two-star review from one user and three stars from another user.
Meanwhile, the 44th Medical Brigade barracks has one star, with a user reporting mold and pest issues.
Evans said the app is not meant to replace processes, like reporting issues to facility managers, the Directorate of Public Works and the chain of command, but is intended to hold leaders accountable.
“Soldiers who join the military are wanting a better life for themselves,” he said. “Me, personally, I grew up in a pretty poor house — mold, bugs and didn’t have running water at times. So when I enlisted in the military, I wanted a better life, and it wouldn’t feel right for somebody to try to get out of that situation to go to an equally bad position where they’re living with rodents or mold.”
Evans said he has spoken to military leaders including representatives from Fort Liberty’s Mission and Installation Contracting Command about how they can use data from Hots&Cots to improve barracks and dining facilities.
“I’m hoping that the military will put me out of business so they have something like this for soldiers and for the public to see,” he said. “I want the better barracks and dining facilities for soldiers and also to have some sort of accountability.”