The photos shared here are from a shower facility at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where several thousand airmen spend 6-12 months at a time supporting air operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia — including the ongoing fight against Islamic State.
The conditions pictured here are typical of those faced by airmen on temporary duty at Al Udeid. Anyone assigned for 6 months or less is assigned to the “CC” side of the base, while longer-term deployers and higher-ranking officer and enlisted members are assigned to the newer “BPC” area. Dorms and restrooms in the BPC are modern, clean, and reasonably well-functioning. Conditions in the CC are abhorrent.
These conditions are nothing new. Black mold in living quarters, air conditioners, and bathrooms has been a problem for at least a decade. Mobility crews who spend anywhere from a few days to a few months at Al Udeid but return on frequent rotations have been complaining to leaders of several commands for years on end to no avail. I personally led a 135-day deployment of a C-17 squadron to Al Udeid in 2011 and personally raised the issue of unsatisfactory/unclean living and bathing quarters with local leaders as well as those from my parent command. No one did anything. Years later, the problem remains.
Airmen at Al Udeid now have continued to raise the issue. In response, local leaders have begun making the claim that black mold such as that pictured below poses them no health risks. This is a false claim. Exposure to black mold can trigger allergic reactions and cause considerable respiratory and skin ailments. The claim is also misrepresentative in that the government has never established standards for exposure to mold and spore levels, and therefore cannot state that a facility meets standards.
This is an inexcusable failure at the senior level. Either the generals haven’t created a healthy enough organizational climate to avail them of the knowledge of these problems despite their long-term predominance … or they haven’t responded energetically and effectively enough to remedy a glaringly unacceptable problem impacting the morale and welfare of airmen. If the fix is beyond the ability of the US military, the problem should have morphed into an interagency crisis long ago. If the fix is beyond the ability of the US government, there should long ago have been an uncompromising diplomatic push to get it remedied long ago.
Whatever the story behind its painful genesis and however persuasive the long list of reasons provided, there is simply no excuse for forcing our airmen to live in conditions like this.
I spent well more than a year altogether at Al Udeid. What I noticed in that time was how much effort leaders put into controlling and directing airmen through the use of rules and policies severely limiting individual liberty. This created a truly miserable experience. What I noticed in parallel was an abject failure to take care of people in even the most basic ways. Al Udeid’s leaders need to spend less time controlling the consumption of alcohol and tobacco … and instead redirect their legion of fun police to making sure airmen have basically healthy living conditions and competent support.
Unfortunately, these conditions are unlikely to improve unless Congress calls the Air Force on the carpet to explain why, despite a budget well north of $100B annually for as long as anyone can remember, it continues to neglect many of its own airmen at its own “premier” deployed base. If and when Congress asks those questions, it might want to inquire about occupancy rates in the vaunted BPC. From what I hear, there is plenty of vacancy in the “Better People Complex” … and if there’s even one room open, it equates to leadership malpractice given these conditions.
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