The Defense Department is the proud owner of 538 installations across 26 million acres of land, much of it developed before 1970 and either woefully outdated or outright falling apart. But the Pentagon wants to turn that around, starting with its new Strategy for Resilient and Healthy Defense Communities, unveiled Thursday.

The strategy will compile feedback from troops and family members on what would make living and working on base more comfortable and efficient, as well as look at infrastructure needing repairs to see where upgrades to current technology or building standards can be implemented.

“We recognize there’s a significant gap between what the installation conditions are today and what the quality standards are that our service members and their families deserve and should expect,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told Military Times in a Wednesday interview. “And we know that for far too long, the department has not invested in its communities and installations the way that it should have.”

Top of mind is barracks, Hicks said, which have posed a significant issue to the services for years, with troops taking to social media to show brown water coming from faucets, mold growing unfettered across walls and ceilings and raw sewage blanketing restroom floors.

Child development centers are also in need of upgrades, Hicks said.

The plan doesn’t have a spending estimate or a timeline, she explained, because it’s more of a shift in the way the Pentagon thinks about community infrastructure, and is expected to be integrated into all future military construction.

The scale of the undertaking, Hicks said, is in the tens of billions. Just over the past five years, more than $11 billion per year has gone to new construction on installations, in addition to more than $15 billion spent annually to maintain existing structures, according to DOD. The new multifaceted strategy is expected to prioritize getting facilities into basic compliance with health and safety codes, as well as upgrading and revamping facilities to be more functional.

“We’re going to evolve to the changing preferences of our service members, we’re going to evolve to the changing mission sets, we’re going to evolve to the change in the geopolitics of the world,” Brendan Owens, the Pentagon’s installation management boss, told Military Times on Wednesday.

Such significant concepts will govern the next few decades of master planning on military bases, Owens said, but there are some concrete changes that troops could see in the shorter-term.

Putting more kitchenettes in the barracks, for example, can give service members some control over what they’re eating in an environment where cooking appliances like hot plates are usually banned.

There will be an effort to solicit feedback from troops and families, Hicks said, which may look like an online submission portal. The Pentagon is also contracting with a technology company, Owens added, that scans social media posts looking for conversational topics, like housing, to help it compile a to-do list.

Part of the strategy will also include messaging for leadership. In the past, troops have notified their commands about issues like mold, broken air conditioning and more, but gotten little support.

Maj. Gen. James Isenhower III, who commands the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, became a viral sensation in 2023 when a video of him at a conference discussing barracks mold was shared online.

“A lot of times, we just need to teach young soldiers and young family members what is appropriate and what is part of their obligation and basic responsibility as an adult,” Isenhower said. “I will tell senior leaders, ‘I don’t have a mold problem, I have a discipline problem.’”

Isenhower’s comments came in context of decades of known issues with ventilation in aging facilities.

“People living and working on Department of Defense installations thrive as part of happy, productive and resilient communities,” Hicks said, reading from the new strategy’s objectives. “That is the message that we are trying to make sure leadership will receive from the top down.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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