Ayotte Takes DoD to Task on Unacceptable Al Udeid Living Conditions

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We’ve been highlighting here recently the longstanding and morale-draining issues with living conditions at Al Udeid Air Base, in Qatar … specifically the Air Force’s inability to remedy these conditions over the course of a dozen years of continual degradation. Airmen have been raising concerns about germ-addled rooms, spore-clogged air conditioners, crumbling structures, and poorly-maintained bathrooms throughout those years.

In that time, the generals and chief master sergeants punching their careerist tickets at the base have done little to fix anything, instead focusing on tightly controlling the behavior of airmen and cultivating a miserable and distraction-riddled prison camp atmosphere as toxic to teamwork and esprit as it has been to the respiratory and gastro-intestinal health of its captive population.

All those years and tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars later, the service has finally, at long last, run out of time to continue its failure. Congress is stepping in. Perhaps more than any other political issue of our time, looking tough on bureaucrats who don’t properly care for the blessed men and women serving in our defense is a winner. It’s also necessary to maintain public support for the endless string of foreign promiscuity to which we’ve addicted ourselves.

Legislators shrewdly understand that while Americans will accept spending $6T on a lost war, are fine with having suspects tortured in their name, and don’t even particularly mind being lied to about the reason or necessity for going to war, they will not, by God, stand for maltreatment of the troops. At least not to the extent they become aware of it between Kardashian episodes and manage to retain the thought beyond Snapchat horizon.

But for a few choice lawmakers, the issue is one of genuine leadership. They care about the issue authentically and spend their time on it even when there is no larger narrative or controversy being supplied. They don’t respond to hot issues … they create them by using their influence and platform to raise awareness and create pressure for change. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is one such lawmaker.

Ayotte has become aware of the perpetual sh*t show at Al Udeid, and she’s not happy about it, as this video clearly demonstrates. Pay close attention to around 1:25.

Two things worth highlighting.

First, when Kelly Ayotte says “I don’t want to hear from my Guard that they’re getting sick from mold” … both her strident words and her stern demeanor exemplify what we should expect from a commander. She’s demonstrating leadership. She’s refusing to accept low standards. She’s signaling zero tolerance for continued failure.

Ayotte embarrassed and upstaged Gen. Mark Welsh and Secretary Debbie James. They have a solemn duty to provide the best living conditions possible, starting not with generals or chiefs but with those closest to the fight — those at bases like Al Udeid. Despite endless bloviating about taking care of airmen, Welsh and James have failed, presiding over three years of continued decline and decrepitude at Al Udeid. 

Second, it’s clear from the remarks of Brad Carson that the Air Force hasn’t even made an effort to call attention to the Al Udeid mess. At 1:45, Carson says “first I’ve heard of that.” We can conclude from his statement that the Air Force has not corporately elevated the issue to the Department of Defense to argue for additional funding. So much for all of those assurances the past several years that the generals have been doing everything possible — everything within their power — to correct the situation.

Al Udeid is a disgrace. Any commander who has heard the complaints should have dug deep enough to get to the truth of things. And with that truth in hand, commanders should have pushed the issue as high and as forcefully as possible to get a remedy … or become impaled on their swords in the vain effort. This is what it means to take care of the warfighter.

Kelly Ayotte has a leader’s orientation. It’s obvious to her what needs to be done. Senior Air Force leaders have the orientations we’d expect of bureaucrats and publicists. They can’t even see the problem, much less the solution.

Al Udeid isn’t a shocking, overnight problem. It’s been an unfolding disaster for a long time, and is both a reflection of and a catalyst for a larger systemic ill noticeable across the entire Air Force. One particular reddit poster summarizes it better than I can. I’ll close with his words:

The point of this story going viral isn’t about the black mold, the black mold is a symptom of a bigger disease, morale. Al Udeid hasn’t been taken care of by leadership and the 13-year result is an angry populace. The buck has been passed too long on getting things fixed, improvements have been teased and not delivered. The CC trailers have long outlasted their life span, they are falling apart from the top down. There is a decade’s worth of decrepit dust, mold, mildew and whatever else you can imagine throughout the buildings. As of my last visit, there are no mops, no bacterial wipes, no nothing. The bathrooms are 20 times worse.

In contrast, I have spent 7 months in Kandahar and it was much cleaner and better taken care of than the Deid. When I had a maintenance issue, it was fixed the next day. The compound I was in had a guy who cleaned our community bathroom and there was never shit on the walls. There as never graffiti. On my hall I had enlisted and officers alike. No [lewd drawings], no full toilet paper rolls in the toilet. The amount of shit thrown around in the Al Udeid bathrooms would make a circus monkey blush.

Treat people like adults and you might get a different result. People will take care of their community if they respect it.

Mind you, some people literally spend half their careers at that location. This is where the “WAR IS HELL” group can go pound sand. Aircrew have been deployed over and over to see the same shit show, literally. Al Udeid is a home away from home. People go TDY to the US from Al Udeid.

It only took 7 years to get Wifi in all the livable areas after multiple Sq Commanders dropped the “You are at WAR!” mantra in response to their own question of “What can we do to improve morale around here?” This disconnected leadership isn’t anything new. From what I can tell down here, any leadership who asks their higher ups for help is seen as weak.

Al Udeid’s idea of improving morale is to install a fucking golf simulator… That’s cool, at least I can still play golf after one of my lungs gets removed. The simple lack of human understanding is highlighted when you think you can appease a pissed off crowd by giving them a golf simulator instead of shelter.

If anyone is in contact with Sen. Ayotte, send her this excerpt and tell her she’s glimpsing the tip of a very filthy iceberg. Oh, and implore her to keep pushing — she’s the only hope airmen have to get this turned around.

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