Many enlisted Marines at a San Diego base spent months having to shower in cold water, according to three service members there.
Members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 returned from an Indo-Pacific deployment in November 2023 to find that the showers in their three barracks buildings at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, lacked hot water.
The three buildings serve as the residence for more than 100 Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, according to 1st Lt. Jacoby Hawkins, a spokesman for the installation. Three sources living there said the problem was widespread in these buildings, though some showers had lukewarm water at times.
Marines in the squadron made leaders aware of the water problem almost as soon as they arrived, the sources said, but the problem wasn’t fixed until late January, following maintenance work by a contractor. The active duty service members spoke with Marine Corps Times, initially between Jan. 19 and Jan. 23, on condition of anonymity to discuss their living conditions openly.
For months, Marines had to put up with cold showers, often after tiring, messy shifts conducting helicopter maintenance.
When those Marines return from a long shift, they are sometimes covered in grease or hazardous materials that have slipped past their personal protective equipment, one said. For them, skipping a shower at the end of the day isn’t an option.
But the cold water, punctuated only sometimes by barely warm water, made showering an unpleasant ritual.
One Marine said their shower routine involved getting cold water on their body, stepping out of the water to soap up, and washing it off, again and again until they are clean. Some days, the Marine said, they seriously considered pooling his salary with those of other Marines to rent a hotel room with a proper shower.
The Marine has sometimes noticed grease from the day before on their and their coworkers’ hands thanks to the abbreviated showers.
The source said they understand that Marines won’t have access to hot water in all circumstances — on certain deployments, say.
“But this is at home,” the Marine said Jan. 22. “This is my house for the time being.”
The Marine Corps anticipated problems with the buildings’ boiler and ordered a new one as a long-term solution back in October 2023, Hawkins said in an emailed statement Wednesday in response to a Marine Corps Times query.
But the new boiler is still being manufactured and likely won’t be delivered until the spring, Hawkins said, noting that it requires “lead time for manufacturing and delivery.”
“We’re working every angle to expedite its delivery and installation,” he said.
The boiler replacement contract is with Johnson Controls Federal Systems LLC, Hawkins said.
Johnson Controls investigated the boiler failure on behalf of the Marine installation and received a notice to proceed with replacing the boiler in December 2023, Trent Perrotto, a spokesman for the company, told Marine Corps Times in a statement Feb. 7, after this article was initially published.
“We are actively working with the Marine Corps Miramar Facilities Management Department to quickly resolve the situation,” Perrotto said.
Hawkins said that although the hot water went out “on multiple occasions” since November 2023, the Marines weren’t continuously out of hot water, and technicians resolved past outages within a day or two.
Three sources in the unit disputed that ― saying they did not have hot water for months, though they sometimes had lukewarm water.
Meanwhile, the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command was conducting maintenance on the current boiler, according to Hawkins. Earlier in January, Fortis Industries LLC became involved with the project, the Marine spokesman said.
Members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 told Marine Corps Times they noticed at least some hot water beginning Jan. 25 and Jan. 26.
Hawkins said the recent improvements to the hot water situation likely were thanks to Fortis, which “identified issues in the boiler that were not previously identified” and made a temporary fix.
Gym memberships and greasy hands
One member of the unit said they purchased a membership at a gym a 30-minute drive away to get access to the hot showers there. The membership is $35 a month, and they probably spend more than $200 a month on gas to get to and from the gym.
Yet the alternative was showering in the barracks, where their feet recently turned numb after three minutes in the cold water, the source said on Jan. 23.
The Marines who live in these barracks don’t have much of a choice about their living situation.
Officers, higher-ranking enlisted Marines and Marines with families generally receive money to live off base, so barracks inhabitants are mostly younger Marines who don’t have money to spend on pricey Southern California rent. A lance corporal with two years in the service, for instance, makes $2,526.90 a month.
There are problems with barracks across the military branches, including mold, inadequate plumbing, and poor heating and cooling, a government watchdog report said in September 2023.
At the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California, Marines in one company were living in dirty, dilapidated barracks with vermin and possible mold, Marine Corps Times reported in January. In December, the school’s East Coast counterpart in North Carolina shut down a shower facility where the ceiling was coated in what appeared to be black mold.
Marine leaders have acknowledged many of the Corps’ aging barracks are in unacceptable condition.
In June 2023, the Corps officially pledged that Marines living would have safe, healthy barracks with “functional fixtures, furnishings, appliances, and utilities” and “common areas and amenities that are enjoyable.”
The service is crafting a Barracks 2030 initiative, aimed at improving its living quarters in the coming years, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
Miramar, California, an aviation-focused Marine installation located in San Diego, has been at the forefront of these reform efforts. The base is home to two pilot programs that could later apply to the rest of the force, according to an internal memo about the Corps’ barracks plan obtained by Marine Corps Times in January.
The installation has begun a resident adviser program, in which a few staff noncommissioned officers move into the barracks to provide “advocacy, mentorship, and the maintenance of good order and discipline for all residents,” according to Marine Corps Installations Command spokesman Maj. John Parry.
It also is running a new maintenance program that involves bringing in on-call contractors, who can respond to maintenance requests more quickly. But the hot water system posed an especially “extensive and interconnected” problem, Hawkins said.
“While our on-call team can handle smaller plumbing issues, the recurring outages indicated a deeper problem requiring a larger-scale fix like the boiler replacement currently underway,” the spokesman said.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Feb. 8 with comment from a representative for Johnson Controls.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.