Air Force Material Command Gen. Arnold Bunch said airmen are the Air Force’s most important resource. That’s why he took some time to host a town hall for his command and answer some of the questions that are most pressing on those airman’s minds.
Chief among those issues, he said, is the declining state of many Air Force facilities, including housing.
“To me, the fact that our families in many cases are living in some of these conditions, and the fact that we need to address many of these things, I treat that as an urgent operational need. That’s the message that I’ve given the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center,” Brunch said during the Aug. 8 town hall. “And the message that I’ve given out to our center commanders and to the Air Force Civil Engineering Center — for this command, this is an urgent operational need. We have to get after this, we need to be transparent with the families, we need to talk about what we’re doing. That’s the message to everybody involved. So if you don’t believe you’re being heard, I’d encourage you to go to your first line commander or director and let them funnel it up. If that doesn’t work, take it up another step. And as I said earlier, if that doesn’t work, I’m in the global.”
Military families have testified before Congress on numerous occasions about respiratory problems from mold, children with cancer, rats and toxic chemicals in the air and soil of where they lived. That prompted the Air Force to conduct in-person safety investigations of 74,500 family housing units at the end of February. The results were supposed to give senior civilian and military leaders a better understanding of the extent and severity of the problems with on-base housing.
The Air Force more recently withheld $4.3 million in incentive funds at 21 military housing bases managed by Balfour-Beatty Communities after allegations that the company falsified maintenance records to receive the bonuses, a direct result of investigations from Reuters-CBS News.
“Our facilities, over time, have not continued to be updated and modernized the way we need them to. Our backlog of work orders and the amount of money that we’ve got in back work continues to grow,” he said. “We are highlighting those issues up both to the Air Force Installation and Missions Support Center, and we’re also highlighting up to the senior leaders within the Pentagon, to include our secretary and our chief.”
Bunch said former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein signed an installation strategy to begin investing more in facilities maintenance and modernization. Bunch said that’s a good sign.
“To have a document signed by the secretary of the Air Force and the chief [of staff] that identifies that we’re falling behind is a key step to me being able to address those shortfalls,” Bunch said.