WASHINGTON — The top Marine leader “won’t apologize” for the years of underinvestment in the Marine Corps’ barracks even though he has made improving those living facilities a top priority now that he is in charge.

“When we geared up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we focused on weapons systems, training and technology,” Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said Thursday at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington. “And that focus kept a lot of Marines alive in Helmand province, kept a lot of Marines alive in Iraq, in the Sunni Triangle.”

“So, again, I can’t apologize for previous generations of Marines to prioritize training and equipping over quality of life,” he continued. “But now the tide has to turn, and we have to get back to quality of life.”

Smith’s comments came the day after the Corps’ budget chief also attributed barracks issues to investments in weapons systems over quality of life.

“We didn’t have the data to say, ‘How are we tracking the facilities’ condition in detail to defend more than $200 million a year for that?’” Lt. Gen. James Adams, the deputy Marine commandant for programs and resources, said Wednesday at the conference. “But we did have the data to say, ‘We need this Force Design weapons system or this modernized vehicle or this modernized weapon platform.’”

Adams said in response to a Marine Corps Times question about who was at fault for the previous underinvestment in the barracks that he didn’t see it as a fault.

A Government Accountability Office report published in September 2023 found widespread problems — including mold, dysfunctional plumbing, and poor heating and cooling — in barracks across the military services, including the Marine Corps.

A recent Corps-wide inspection found approximately half of barracks rooms were only “partially mission-capable,” meaning they were deficient in at least one aspect of living standards, Maj. Gen. David Maxwell, commander of Marine Corps Installations Command, said Wednesday at the Modern Day Marine conference.

Smith has served as the commandant since September 2023, although he became the acting commandant in July 2023 following the retirement of Commandant Gen. David Berger. For the two years before that, he was the assistant commandant, serving as the Corps’ No. 2 leader.

Quality of life, especially barracks improvements, has been central to Smith’s stated agenda during his time as commandant. Under the leadership of Smith and Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney, who served as acting commandant during Smith’s monthslong recovery from a cardiac arrest, the Corps has rolled out a barracks overhaul initiative.

That Barracks 2030 initiative entails consolidating Marines in the best barracks, professionalizing barracks management and speeding up maintenance. It also means making barracks restoration a priority in the service’s budget.

The Marine Corps has asked in its official fiscal year 2025 budget request for $274 million for barracks restoration, a $65 million increase from previous year. It signaled in its unfunded priorities list it would like an additional $230 million for that purpose if there were room in the budget.

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.

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