Navy leadership is moving more than 350 service members out of barracks that had been without hot water for years aboard Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the Maryland base that houses Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The movement of the young enlisted troops living in Comfort and Sanctuary halls began Saturday and followed a Navy Times investigation Friday that revealed how some junior sailors and soldiers had been living without hot water and other basic amenities in those buildings for years.
“I already work super-long hours in a high-demand clinic with a huge patient volume,” one affected Navy corpsman told Navy Times last week. “We’ve been short-staffed for a long time and there’s no telework for us. It sucks to have to grit your teeth through a cold shower and go back to the grind.”
The affected troops are being moved to a Navy Lodge and nearby off-base hotel, and will remain there “until the hot water issues are addressed,” base spokesman Jeremy Brooks said in an email.
Rear Adm. Michael Steffen, the commandant of Naval District Washington, made a “surprise visit” to Sanctuary Hall on Saturday to listen to the concerns of residents there.
“We take the quality of life and basic needs of our personnel very seriously, Capt. Scott Switzer, NSA Bethesda’s commanding officer, said in a release announcing the move. “Service members living in our unaccompanied housing have the right to expect a quality of life that includes basic comforts, and we are going to do everything we can to ensure they do.”
Comfort Hall was built in 1986 and has been plagued by hot water issues for some time.
The building was constructed with no hot water loop to get hot water to the third and fourth floors.
Switzer told a town hall last week before the Navy Times report that fixing the problem will involve completely cutting off the water for five days.
In a release announcing the movement of affected troops out of the hot water-less barracks, the Navy said “the project was approved last year, and production work began in mid-December.”
Sanctuary Hall opened to residents in 2014 and the Navy has been trying to fix that building’s hot water issues since 2015, Switzer said at the town hall.
That work involves replacing a temperature control valve and those repairs are expected to be completed in a few weeks, and new parts for the temperature control valve have been ordered, according to the Navy.
“These repairs will not be done overnight. It will take some time to do this right, but we will get there,” Switzer said in a statement. “Moving our effected (sic) population to suitable quarters will allow us to accelerate the repair process while ensuring our Sailors and Soldiers have adequate living conditions. In the meantime, we will continue to work with our tenant commands and ensure we take care of our service members.”
While Switzer said at the town hall that “trouble tickets” had been mishandled, base leadership encouraged troops to continue submitting them.
“If Sailors feel that repairs to their barracks are not being made in a timely manner, raise it and let us know,” Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Tate, the base’s executive officer, said in the release. “It is our responsibility to make sure those repairs are made and updates on repairs are communicated.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated the year Comfort Hall was built due to erroneous information provided by the Navy. It was built in 1986.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.