FORT HOOD — Leaders at Fort Hood are following through on their vow to make sure soldiers and their families are living in safe on-post housing.
Capt. Ryan Ellis said Wednesday evening he was nearly done carrying out a series of visits to soldiers he’s responsible for in Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment.
“In my formation, I have 12 soldiers living in on-post housing,” said Ellis, whose unit falls under 1st Cavalry Division. “So this is one of three today, but I’ve made the other nine since last week.”
Fort Hood’s garrison command team began coordinating visits to these families last month to document any ongoing problems they were having with their housing.
The visits are part of a broader nationwide effort ordered last month by Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. All Army installations were told to conduct a full investigation into civilian owned and operated post housing following a U.S. Senate committee hearing.
Ellis’ first visit Wednesday was at a unit in the Venable housing area. Sgt. Johannes Lesle greeted Ellis, inviting him and about a half-dozen other people into his home on Hammer Spur. Ellis was quick to stress that he wasn’t there for an inspection.
“It’s not a health and welfare, it’s just a visit to make sure the health of the home is good for you and your family,” Ellis told Lesle and his wife, Roselenora.
Ellis began running down a checklist of items of particular concern. The Lesles said they hadn’t seen any discolored water coming from their taps. They also had not found any signs of mold or mildew in the home.
They did point out some apparent water damage on a ceiling in one of the rooms.
Ellis says that’s a common problem he’s seen during his visits with other families.
“Cracked paint, water damage, issues in the drywall from old leaks.” Ellis said he’s seen some units with siding problems that exposed interior walls to the elements.
Ellis said less common but more urgent problems include heaters not working as temperatures in the area fell into the 20s over the last week.
The biggest problem the Lesles have with their current housing is one left over from when they moved in nearly two years ago.
Roselenora Lesle led Ellis into a room at the rear of the home and told him about an awful smell that forced them to stop using it as a bedroom.
“Cat urine, specifically,” she said, pointing to a warped area at the bottom of the closet doors. She says the urine smell permeates both the floor and one wall of the room.
“I go through about a bottle of migraine medicine ... about every two weeks,” she said. “That’s excessive.”
Johannes Lesle said he was told maintenance crews were coming this weekend to try to fix those problems. New carpet and new paint will be used in the room to try to alleviate the smell.
Ellis said his visits have shown a pattern of problems with maintenance of the family housing units.
“There’s been a lot of delays or improper fixes,” the captain said, “so they’ve had to come out more than once to fix the same repair.
“But that’s why we’re out here, right? We’re trying to recognize with the Department of the Army to make sure the contractors are living up (to) their end of the bargain as well.”
Mack Quinney is more than willing to make some tweaks to help uphold that bargain. Quinney is the project director for Fort Hood Family Housing, which is responsible for more than 5,500 homes on post used by soldiers and their families.
Quinney said he has personally visited about 10 families and spoken with them about the problems they are having. He said leaders at Fort Hood say visits overall are about 50 percent complete.
The visits are having the desired effect. Quinney said urgent calls to fix maintenance issues have tripled since the visits began. He believes some families hadn’t called his office to ask for repairs previously because they weren’t overly concerned about some of the problems. That’s changed with the increased scrutiny on the condition of the on-post family units.
Quinney said most of the new urgent calls to Family Housing concern moisture damage inside a unit. Maintenance workers respond to those calls within 24 hours and try to finish the repair within 48 hours.
There’s also been an increase in routine calls for maintenance, such as painting and sheetrock repair, and Quinney said those are being scheduled as they come in.
As for the number of work orders still outstanding, Quinney said the number constantly changes as more repair requests come in. His office is closing out emergency and urgent work orders at the required completion rate of 98 percent.
Last week, Family Housing had 41 work orders that were still open after 30 days. Quinney called that number typical. He said sometimes parts need to be ordered to complete a work order, while at other times his office has trouble scheduling a time to enter a unit to the needed repair.
After Wednesday’s visit, Quinney said the increased scrutiny generated by the housing visits will probably lead to some changes in the way Family Housing deals with maintenance issues.
“We’re taking a deep dive into our maintenance protocols and how we do business,” Quinney said. “We’re probably going to reinstitute some town halls at a community level so we make sure that we hear people.”
Quinney called work to improve Family Housing’s maintenance response “a process,” saying it would take time to examine what needs to be done and make changes.
His biggest takeaway from the visits he’s been making to the families living on-post?
“I think we need to have an advocate for the resident who’s not getting the help they need,” Quinney said, adding that Family Housing is already working on a way to make that happen.
“They’re my customers and I want to make sure I take care of my customers.”