U.S. Army vows more funds, measures to fix housing hazards

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell

(Reuters) – Pledging to overcome a housing crisis on its installations, the U.S. Army is outlining new steps it is taking to provide better housing for families of service members while demanding accountability from private landlords and Army commanders.

In an interview, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said private real estate firms operating housing on military bases have already committed some $500 million to address substandard conditions like those documented in a Reuters series, Ambushed at Home.

McCarthy, confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month as the Army’s senior civilian official, said more money is needed to build new housing on Army bases and renovate thousands of existing units. In the coming months, McCarthy said, the Army will consider a broad “recapitalization” of its housing program with its private partners.

The Reuters series documented housing hazards including shoddy construction, mold and pest infestations, the presence of lead-based paint and others.

Already this year, the Army has moved 1,800 families into temporary housing while repairing their homes, it said. It has been sending military personnel to inspect each home in its 87,000-unit portfolio for environmental threats, and, with its partners, has spent an extra $68 million addressing maintenance delays, the Army added. Going forward, the Army will require regular home inspections for safety hazards including peeling lead paint, mold and asbestos, it said.

In addition, the Army has hired 100 new housing inspectors and is requiring private landlords to create phone apps so residents can track the progress of maintenance work, it said.

“There was a breakdown over the last decade,” McCarthy said. “These are hard lessons learned, but we’re trying to dig out quickly.”

McCarthy added, “Behaviors have changed.”

Starting in January, McCarthy said, the Army will change the way it approves incentive fee payments to its private landlords to ensure that firms do not profit from homes left in disrepair.

The Army has placed four-star General Gus Perna, who heads the Army Materiel Command, in charge of personally approving all incentive fees paid to the housing partners, which can be worth millions of dollars each year.

“I have one metric: Make sure our families live in the best base housing possible,” Perna said.

Housing problems also have plagued U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force bases, often stemming from landlord neglect, shoddy construction and lax military oversight.

A recent Reuters report described how an Air Force landlord falsified maintenance records to help it win incentive fees.

Since the late 1990s, nearly all family housing on domestic U.S. military bases has been privatized. Developers and property managers who oversee the homes hold 50-year contracts worth billions of dollars. But the privatization program gave families little recourse to challenge landlords, who can deduct rent from military paychecks of service members. Now, the Army is holding regular town hall meetings to let residents air concerns. Other service branches have followed suit.

Some landlords have committed to new housing investments. Rhode Island-based Corvias, among the Army’s top partners, recently arranged $325 million in lending to launch upgrades, McCarthy said. Some $100 million is targeted for Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the most populous U.S. base, where residents have cited mold and leaks.

“A lot of work remains,” McCarthy said. “We just want families to know we’re going to get out of this.”

(Reporting by Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell; Editing by Ronnie Greene and Will Dunham)

U.S. Army vows to fix ‘broken’ housing at Fort Meade in wake of Reuters report

FILE PHOTO: Water damage to the doorway of a Corvias-managed military housing unit is pictured in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Andrea Januta/File Photo

By Joshua Schneyer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The commander of one of the largest Army bases in the United States promised residents to fix a broken housing system in which maintenance lapses by a private landlord left military families in homes with health and safety hazards.

The garrison commander at Maryland’s Fort Meade made the remarks in meetings with residents this month in response to a Reuters report in December that detailed the problems, which ranged from mold and rodent infestations to flooding, crumbling roofs and ceiling collapses. Many tenants accused the closely held civilian company that runs most housing at Fort Meade, Rhode Island’s Corvias Group, of routinely failing to make repairs.

Based on the Reuters articles, we failed you. I failed you, Colonel Erich C. Spragg, Meade’s garrison commander, told families at a January 11 town hall meeting.

“Why are we here tonight? I’ll tell you why: because this is broken, Spragg said of the Meade housing system, operated by a public-private venture between the Army and Corvias. I’ve got to figure out where it’s broken, and we have to fix it.&rdq

Corvias staff also spoke at the meetings, acknowledging lapses and pledging improvements, according to audio recordings that were shared with Reuters.

Trust is hard to earn back, and we’re going to do what we can to earn that back, JC Calder, Corvias’s operations director at Meade, told residents.

Meade and Corvias promised to overhaul the system for placing repair requests to more swiftly complete fixes. The garrison commander is convening resident focus groups to identify housing lapses.

Owned by real estate developer John Picerne, Corvias operates more than 26,000 family homes across 13 U.S. Army and Air Force bases under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative. It is slated to earn more than $1 billion in fees over 50-year contracts, Reuters found.

Asked about the new promises to Meade residents, Corvias spokeswoman Kelly Douglas said in a statement: Our core mission at Corvias is clear: put service members and their families first. We can do better and will do better, in addressing any resident issues.

She said the company already has a high rate of completing work orders, but to respond to resident issues more quickly, is adding additional maintenance and service staff.

In a statement Wednesday, the Army said it is committed to providing a safe and secure environment on our installations, and said it recently completed visual inspections of 10 percent of family housing units nationwide with children ages six or younger.

The Army began the inspection program last year after Reuters found lead poisoning hazards on several bases.

The results, the Army said, will inform our long-term plan to address issues across the force.

Fort Meade is the site of a major U.S. Army contingent and home to the secretive National Security Agency. Corvias operates around 3,000 family homes on the base.

Last month, Reuters detailed housing concerns at Fort Meade and two other bases where Corvias operates, North Carolina’s Fort Bragg and Louisiana’s Fort Polk, where a subsequent online petition to hold Corvias accountable has gained 5,000 signatures. Corvias said it is reviewing its service request system to better address resident concerns at all bases where it operates.

At the two Meade town hall sessions last week, some families described mold sickening their children, unexplained charges from their landlord, days without heat, and problems that forced them to move in temporarily with neighbors.

Corvias is among more than a dozen private real estate firms housing service families on U.S. bases under the two-decade-old privatization program.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, this month told a local TV station he would press for Senate hearings to explore base housing conditions across the country.

Before Corvias took over Fort Bragg housing in 2003, Reed helped make introductions for Picerne at the Army post and credited his work serving military families. After the Reuters report, Reed said the Senate should review operations of all contractors, including Corvias.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Pentagon looks to exoskeletons to build ‘super-soldiers’

Keith Maxwell, Senior Product Manager of Exoskeleton Technologies at Lockheed Martin, demonstrates an Exoskeleton during a Exoskeleton demonstration and discussion, in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army is investing millions of dollars in experimental exoskeleton technology to make soldiers stronger and more resilient, in what experts say is part of a broader push into advanced gear to equip a new generation of “super-soldiers.”

The technology is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp with a license from Canada-based B-TEMIA, which first developed the exoskeletons to help people with mobility difficulties stemming from medical ailments like multiple sclerosis and severe osteoarthritis.

Worn over a pair of pants, the battery-operated exoskeleton uses a suite of sensors, artificial intelligence and other technology to aid natural movements.

For the U.S. military, the appeal of such technology is clear: Soldiers now deploy into war zones bogged down by heavy but critical gear like body armor, night-vision goggles and advanced radios. Altogether, that can weigh anywhere from 90 to 140 pounds (40-64 kg), when the recommended limit is just 50 pounds (23 kg).

“That means when people do show up to the fight, they’re fatigued,” said Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who helped lead a series of studies on exoskeletons and other advanced gear.

“The fundamental challenge we’re facing with infantry troops is they’re carrying too much weight.”

Lockheed Martin said on Thursday it won a $6.9 million award from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to research and develop the exoskeleton, called ONYX, under a two-year, sole-source agreement.

Keith Maxwell, Senior Product Manager of Exoskeleton Technologies at Lockheed Martin, speaks during a Exoskeleton demonstration and discussion, in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

Keith Maxwell, Senior Product Manager of Exoskeleton Technologies at Lockheed Martin, speaks during an Exoskeleton demonstration and discussion, in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

Keith Maxwell, the exoskeleton technologies manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said people in his company’s trials who wore the exoskeletons showed far more endurance.

“You get to the fight fresh. You’re not worn out,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, who demonstrated a prototype, said each exoskeleton was expected to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

B-TEMIA’s medically focused system, called Keeogo, is sold in Canada for about C$39,000 ($30,000), company spokeswoman Pamela Borges said.

The United States is not the only country looking at exoskeleton technology.

Samuel Bendett at the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded U.S. research and development center, said Russia and China were also investing in exoskeleton technologies, “in parallel” to the U.S. advances.

Russia, in particular, was working on several versions of exoskeletons, including one that it tested recently in Syria, Bendett said.

The CNAS analysis of the exoskeleton was part of a larger look by the Washington-based think tank at next-generation technologies that can aid soldiers, from better helmets to shield them from blast injuries to the introduction of robotic “teammates” to help resupply them in war zones.


(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Exclusive: U.S. Army forms plan to test 40,000 homes for lead following Reuters report

FILE PHOTO: Professor Alexander Van Geen, Research Professor of Geochemistry at Columbia University, tests lead samples from Fort Benning, Georgia at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, U.S. March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Wood/File Photo

By Joshua Schneyer and Andrea Januta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Army has drafted a plan to test for toxic lead hazards in 40,000 homes on its bases, military documents show, in a sweeping response to a Reuters report that found children at risk of lead poisoning in military housing.

The inspection program, if implemented, would begin quickly and prioritize thousands of Army post homes occupied by small children, who are most vulnerable to lead exposure. Ingesting the heavy metal can stunt brain development and cause lifelong health impacts.

The lead inspections would cost up to $386 million and target pre-1978 homes to identify deteriorating lead-based paint and leaded dust, water or soil, according to the military documents.

A draft Army Execution Order says the program’s mission is to mitigate all identified lead hazards in Army post homes in the United States. In homes where dangers are detected, the Army would offer soldiers’ families “temporary or permanent relocation” to housing safe from lead hazards, it says.

The Army’s mobilization comes after Reuters published an investigation on August 16 describing lead paint poisoning hazards in privatized military base homes. It documented at least 1,050 small children who tested high for lead at base clinics in recent years. Their results often weren’t being reported to state health authorities as required, Reuters found.

Behind the numbers were injured families, including that of a decorated Army colonel, J. Cale Brown, whose son JC was poisoned by lead while living at Fort Benning, in Georgia.

The article drew a quick response from lawmakers, with eight U.S. senators demanding action to protect military families living in base housing.

The Army’s planned response is laid out in military documents, including the draft Execution Order, minutes from a private meeting attended by top Army brass, and other materials.

One priority, detailed by Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy in an August 22 meeting, is for the military’s response to counter any sense “that we … are not taking care of children of Soldiers and are not taking appropriate action quickly enough,” meeting minutes say. “The Army will remain focused on the actions to assess, inspect, and mitigate risks to Soldiers and Families,” the minutes say, citing McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff General James C. McConville.

Army spokeswoman Colonel Kathleen Turner acknowledged plans are being formulated but said no decisions have been made. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are going above and beyond current requirements to ensure the safety of our soldiers and their families who work and live on all of our installations,” Turner said in a statement. “We are currently evaluating all options to address these concerns.”

Old lead-based paint becomes a poisoning hazard when it deteriorates, and poor maintenance of military base homes can leave legions at risk. About 30 percent of service families – including some 100,000 small children – live in U.S. military housing owned and operated by private companies in business with the military.

There are nearly 100,000 homes on U.S. Army bases, and the lead inspections are expected to focus on the approximately 40,000 built before a 1978 U.S. ban on the sale of lead paint.

The plans depart from guidance that appeared on the Army Public Health Center’s website as recently as last week, which “discouraged” lead-based paint inspections in Army homes. The website has since been updated and omits that language.

Under the plans, the documents show, the Army would:

– Inspect all pre-1978 Army family housing units nationwide, including visual lead-based paint assessments by certified personnel, swipe-testing for toxic lead paint dust, and testing of tap water. Some homes will also receive soil testing. This phase alone, described as “near-term actions,” will cost between $328 million to $386 million, the Army’s Installation Services director estimated.

– Temporarily or permanently relocate families when hazards are found. “If a Family or Soldier are concerned with potential negative impacts from lead; the U.S. Army will offer them a chance to relocate to a new residence,” the documents say. “We must do everything we can to maintain that trust.”

– Conduct town hall meetings on Army posts to address residents’ lead concerns. The Army intends to do so with “empathy,” the meeting minutes say. “Tone is key and can be just as important as the actions we take.”

The documents leave some questions unanswered. They don’t say how long it would take to inspect all 40,000 homes. Also unclear is whether the Army has funds immediately available for the program, or would need Congressional authorization to set them aside.

The Army would ensure that the private contractors who operate base housing “are meeting their obligations” to maintain base homes, the documents say and would require them to show compliance with lead safety standards through independent audits.

The documents do not discuss whether private housing contractors would bear any of the costs of the lead inspections, or how any repairs would be funded.

In most cases, Army post homes are now majority-owned by private real estate companies. Under their 50-year agreements with the Army, corporate landlords operating military housing agreed to control lead, asbestos, mold, and other toxic risks present in some homes, particularly historic ones.


The Army plans come as base commanders and housing contractors face a wave of complaints about potential home lead hazards, and a rush of military families seeking lead tests for their children.

Last week, the hospital at Fort Benning, where Reuters reported that at least 31 small children had tested high for lead exposure in recent years, began offering “walk-in” lead testing. Some concerned families are already being relocated; in other homes, maintenance workers are using painter’s tape to mark peeling paint spots that residents found contained lead by using store-bought testing kits.

Lead poisoning is preventable, and its prevalence in the United States has declined sharply in recent decades. Still, a 2016 Reuters investigation documented thousands of remaining exposure hotspots, mostly in civilian neighborhoods.

Last week, eight senators, including Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, pushed amendments to legislation to examine and address the military’s handling of lead exposure risks.

In coming weeks, Army officials plan to meet with lawmakers to address their concerns, the military documents show.

(Edited by Ronnie Greene and Michael Williams)

Exclusive: Pentagon evaluating U.S. West Coast missile defense sites

: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense

By Mike Stone

SIMI VALLEY, Calif (Reuters) – The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.

West Coast defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.

The accelerated pace of North Korea’s ballistic missile testing program in 2017 and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised the pressure on the United States government to build-up missile defenses.

On Wednesday, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles), placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.

Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee which oversees missile defense, said the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defenses at West Coast sites. The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defense budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.

“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Alabama Congressman and Republican told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California.

When asked about the plan, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Hill‎ said in a statement: “The Missile Defense Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System on the West Coast.”

The MDA is a unit of the U.S. Defense Department.

Congressman Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defense installations.

Rogers and Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat representing the 9th District of Washington, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp, at west coast sites.

The Congressmen said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.

THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install.

In addition to the two THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and Guam in the Pacific, the U.S. has seven other THAAD systems. While some of the existing missiles are based in Fort Bliss, Texas, the system is highly mobile and current locations are not disclosed.

A Lockheed Martin representative declined to comment on specific THAAD deployments, but added that the company “is ready to support the Missile Defense Agency and the United States government in their ballistic missile defense efforts.” He added that testing and deployment of assets is a government decision.

In July, the United States tested THAAD missile defenses and shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The successful test adds to the credibility of the U.S. military’s missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years due in part to test delays and failures.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army

FILE PHOTO: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

Currently, the continental United States is primarily shielded by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) in Alaska and California as well as the Aegis system deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships. The THAAD system has a far higher testing success rate than the GMD.

The MDA told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the U.S. Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.

North Korea’s latest missile test puts the U.S. capital within range, but Pyongyang still needs to prove it has mastered critical missile technology, such as re-entry, terminal stage guidance and warhead activation, South Korea said on Friday.


(Reporting by Mike Stone in Simi Valley, Calif.; Editing by Chris Sanders, Michelle Price and Michael Perry)


U.S. Army, Interior Dept call for more review on Dakota pipeline

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota

By Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton

(Reuters) – Federal authorities deferred a final decision on a controversial North Dakota section of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Monday in a statement that highlighted concerns about the “repeated” dispossession of tribal lands in the country’s past.

The Departments of the Army and Interior, in a joint statement, said that while their previous decisions to grant construction were consistent with legal requirements, they wanted to have additional discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe due to concerns about protecting Lake Oahe, a culturally sensitive and federally owned water source.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access construction project has drawn steady opposition since last summer from the Standing Rock Sioux, along with environmental activists, who claim it could pollute nearby water supplies and destroy sacred historical sites.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said on Monday that he was “encouraged” by the decision, even though it was not 100 percent what the Tribe had hoped for.

Most of the construction of the proposed 1,172-mile (1,885 km) line, which will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois, has been completed. However, Energy Transfer Partners LP, which is building the line, has yet to receive approval for an easement to tunnel under Lake Oahe, which is part of the Missouri River and is adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

“This action is motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given,” said Kelcy Warren, Chief Executive Officer of Energy Transfer Partners.

“To propose, as the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) now does, to further delay this pipeline and to engage in what can only be described as a sham process sends a frightening message about the rule of law.”

Dakota Access will vigorously pursue its legal rights in this matter, Energy Transfer Partners said in a joint statement with Sunoco Logistics Partners

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

People march during a protest in Bismarck against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe and near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Demonstrations continued on Monday as more than 500 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters tried to gain entry to the capitol in Bismarck. Officials put the building in a “soft lockdown,” in which all doors were locked and guarded, at 11:30 a.m. CST (1830 GMT), said Lieutenant Tom Iverson, spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

Completion of the pipeline was delayed in September so federal authorities could re-examine permits required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In its statement, the Army said that its previous decisions “comported with legal requirements.” However, it added that it was “mindful of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s repeated dispossessions, including those to support water-resources projects.”

It said its additional analysis and discussion with the tribe will include conditions in an easement for the pipeline crossing that might reduce the risk of spills, along with an assessment of how such a spill could affect the tribe.

“This delay provides an opportunity for the U.S. government to resolve outstanding issues to the full satisfaction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and end this pipeline project,” said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group.


Shares of ETP dipped about 1 percent in after-hours trading. Officials at Energy Transfer Partners were not immediately available for comment.

The line has been billed as a cost-effective and efficient way to bring North Dakota oil through Illinois, en route to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is unclear how long the review will take.

The Obama Administration has been supportive in the past of the protection of tribal lands. President-elect Donald Trump has voiced support for infrastructure projects, including pipelines, though he has not specifically addressed Dakota Access.

The likelihood of different government policies in two months could make for a limited delay in the project, said Rick Smead, Managing Director of Advisory Services for RBN Energy in Houston.

The MAIN Coalition, which represents groups that support the pipeline, called Monday’s action another “attempt at death by delay” of the pipeline, saying the administration “has chosen to further fan the flames of protest by more inaction.”

With Trump’s inauguration a little more than two months away, they said they hoped “this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

More than 200 protests against the pipeline are planned across U.S. cities on Tuesday, according to organizers of the demonstrations.

Protests were a factor in the Obama administration’s decision to delay the line’s completion in September and ask for further review from the U.S. Army.

Previous demonstrations, which have drawn celebrities including actors Shailene Woodley and Susan Sarandon, have occasionally turned violent.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston; Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Alan Crosby and Andrew Hay)