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Thread: Relaxing in the barracks
12-19-06, 01:10 PM #1
Relaxing in the barracks
December 25, 2006
Relaxing in the barracks
Junior Marines hope new rules will mean less time cleaning
By John Hoellwarth and Gidget Fuentes
If you pass by the barracks room belonging to Lance Cpls. Raymond Castro and Michael Croslin, everything looks pretty squared away.
The room is sparse. No posters or pictures liven up the walls. It’s got the standard-issue armoires, wall lockers, dressers, nightstands and chairs. They keep it clean.
But there is something different.
For one, the metal bunk beds are configured in an L-shape. Castro’s bed is flush against the wall next to the bathroom, while his computer armoire and dresser — placed parallel with the wall — divide his space from his roommate’s.
The setup keeps them out of each other’s way. In his little nook, Castro can sit on his bed to work on his laptop on the armoire’s fold-down desk. From his bed, Croslin can watch a movie on a small TV placed in his armoire, flanking the doorway.
The change sounds small, but what it says is huge, especially to staff noncommissioned officers and field day inspectors who furrowed their brows when they thought they saw a violation.
It’s the first step in a plan — endorsed by sergeants major throughout the Corps and awaiting the go-ahead from top leadership — that aims to treat barracks-dwellers like grown-ups. Or to attack, as Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, calls it, the “dinosaur” mentality. And he says it’s key to bridging the gap between single Marines and those who are married and live off base, away from the watchful eye of staff NCOs.
He wants Marines in the barracks to hang as many pictures as they want and to move their furniture around at will. He wants less meddling by staff NCOs in barracks life. He wants fewer field days. And he said “we will” change the mentality of leaders who think today’s Marines can’t be trusted with a longer leash.
It’s all part of the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters Campaign Plan, written in 1999, never used, and now being dusted off and modernized. Estrada said Marines can expect to see a MarAdmin soon that addresses the issue.
And while it’s still a proposal, some units, such as the headquarters squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., home to Castro and Croslin, are taking it for a test drive. As Castro pointed out proudly, his room fits within the new regs.
A common improvement
The plan was set in motion earlier this year, when former Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee solicited comments concerning barracks life from Marines throughout the Corps, Estrada said, and asking what changes Marines would like to see.
Turns out, only about 2 percent of the things Marines wanted to change cost money, such as better plumbing and working air conditioners.
The remaining 98 percent required a change in the mind-set of barracks leadership, which — all kicking and screaming aside — costs nothing and can be addressed immediately.
“But the amazing thing is the old barracks campaign plan covered some of these things. It’s already there, but no one is enforcing it,” Estrada said, referring to the 1999 initiative launched by retired Gen. Charles Krulak, who was commandant.
Krulak wrote that his Bachelor Enlisted Quarters Campaign Plan was intended “to improve the quality and habitability of our BEQs, foster the development of our Marines, and to provide a road map with a common source of reference and policy direction for all Marines.”
The 34-page plan touched on issues that Estrada said remain central concerns for Marines in the barracks, such as visitation policies, alcohol storage and consumption, and personalizing rooms.
The 1999 plan endorsed the long-standing barracks drinking policy that lets commanders decide how much alcohol Marines of each rank can possess. It also upheld the rule that visitors must log in with the Marine on duty, have an escort at all times, and leave before night’s end. Krulak’s plan standardized government furniture and made its use mandatory, but opened the door for Marines to use their own rugs, sheets, pillowcases, bedspreads and comforters if they liked.
Though the plan was the Corps’ first formalized step in the direction Estrada and other sergeants major across the Corps are going — made into a proposal at this year’s sergeants major symposium — Krulak’s stated intent was to standardize barracks life. But Estrada aims to take the issue to another level by addressing the concerns of Marines such as Cpl. Richard McCumber, a combat photographer who lives in the barracks at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., a short walk from the Pentagon.
“I’m almost 28, and I can’t do half the stuff I want to do. If I want to have a lady friend stay the night, I should be able to,” McCumber said. “But I have to go over to her place or get a hotel. And my family can’t come over and visit unless I have money for a hotel room, too.”
That’s the mentality — the notion that junior Marines can’t be treated like adults — that Estrada wants to get rid of.
“I have spoken very tough on that issue with staff NCOs across the Marine Corps that it’s time we move away from this whole dinosaur way of thinking and how we look at our single Marines,” Estrada said. “They’d better be allowed to personalize their rooms. It is their home. If we look at it just like the married Marines, base housing, that’s their home. They enjoy a certain type of privacy.”
He said gunnys don’t go knocking on doors in base housing when they’re looking for a warm body to stand duty on holiday weekends, which is why Marines in the barracks feel their diminished expectation of privacy is unfair.
“When they talk about a lack of privacy, they’re not talking about their roommates. They’re talking about the leadership and people coming down to the barracks,” Estrada said.
But Estrada admitted that not everyone is hot on the idea. He described an encounter with a first sergeant in Iraq who “was adamant that we should not allow” the intended changes because she felt Marines were not mature enough to handle the freedom. And some staff NCOs at Camp Pendleton have countered once-a-month field day by popping into rooms for random inspections so frequently that Marines are under increased pressure to be inspection ready every day, according to barracks dwellers there.
“We still have some staff NCOs that feel that Marines should not have the type of things that they’re asking for today because they didn’t have it back in their time,” Estrada said. “Those are the ones that I call the dinosaurs, and those dinosaurs need to get on this train as we’re moving forward.”
The military has two basic housing policies, one for single troops and another for those married or with children.
Marine Corps policy requires that single Marines in grades E-5 and below must live in barracks where provided. More senior single Marines get less Basic Allowance for Housing than married Marines, since they presumably don’t need as large a home as someone who’s married or has children.
Marriage — or being a single parent — means on-base quarters or the monthly, tax-free BAH to pay for an off-base apartment or house.
It’s no secret that some service members marry for two reasons other than love: No more barracks living and more money. Some Marines refer to them as “contract marriages.”
But Corps leaders aren’t about to let junior single Marines collect BAH and live in town.
“Our goal is to keep them, offer them the incentive if they are good Marines to be able to go in town, but I want to have corporals in the barracks with the privates and the PFCs,” Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, told Marine Corps Times reporters and editors this spring. “This is a war-fighting team that needs cohesion.”
“I don’t want a lot of people out there in the civilian community just like all of their peers that are under 26,” Magnus added. “I want them with the Marines on their bases and stations.”
To help, in the past decade, the Corps has been improving housing for all Marines, eliminating squad bays and gang heads, renovating inadequate BEQs and family housing, and modernizing units with Internet connections, cable or satellite television and telephone jacks. Marines can access more gyms, gaming centers, Internet cafes, on-base college courses, sports and races, organized trips and scores of programs and activities for their spouses and children.
But more projects await funding, and Marines say there’s plenty more to do to improve their lives.
That gets back to fixing the dinosaur mentality, a thought process Lance Cpl. Dan Williams is ready to make extinct.
A lithographer, Williams works at a three-man printing shop in the Pentagon. The two sergeants who also work there live in town, but Williams is single. He lives in the barracks at Henderson Hall, where anyone who needs an emergency pamphlet printed in the middle of the night can find him.
Williams said he woke to a knock at his barracks room door at 3 a.m. on a recent Saturday. The Marines on his doorstep “said they’re going to Twentynine Palms in three hours and they need trip itineraries, social directories and point-of-contact cards printed,” Williams said.
“By the time I get back to my room to eat and change my uniform before returning to work and relieving myself from my first shift, they’re already calling me back,” he said. “I know if I lived out in town, they’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll handle it in the morning,’ but they know they have me right here in the barracks, so they utilize me.”
Nearly every barracks-dweller in the national capital region interviewed by Marine Corps Times cited the local weather in illustrating their point about the difference between life in the barracks and life in town. When snowstorms create driving conditions officials deem unsafe, married Marines who live in town are often given “unplanned leave” and allowed to stay home. But Marines in the barracks are expected to be at their work stations come rain, sleet, hail or snow, and often get tapped to shovel a path from the barracks to the Pentagon, to boot.
“They come and get the Marines in the barracks who turn out to be the only ones at work,” said Lance Cpl. Derik Frazier, a personnel clerk at Marine Corps headquarters. “Everyone else is at home sleeping.”
And then there’s field day.
Single Marines often complain that room inspections and weekly cleanups make them feel like children.
However, married Marines who live in base homes do face routine “health and safety” inspections that go beyond ensuring that smoke detectors work and clutter doesn’t block doors and common areas.
Sgt. Daniel Rosales believes rigid BEQ rules and inspections unfairly target single Marines, who, if they complain, are told to “suck it up.” One barracks rule baffles him: No more than four pairs of shoes on the floor at any time. “What’s the big deal?” asked Rosales, who lives at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii.
“When they do clean their room, and especially here, there’s no way of getting rid of all the dust,” he said. “A few Marines I inspect ... stayed up until 1 in the morning cleaning their room because they are scared they are going to fail.”
It’s not easy keeping his room constantly cleaned, especially when he has night college classes. “By the time I get back on Thursday night, it’s a field day night,” he said. “So I’ve got to go clean up my room and have a person tell me that I have dust under my microwave.”
But a married private first class doesn’t face the scrutiny. “He’s automatically considered more clean?” he asked, sarcastically. “So you think this guy is more responsible than I am?
“I’ve been to friends’ housing out in town, and they live in bad conditions, just because they’re lazy and don’t pick up their things,” he said. “On a Thursday night, I have to go clean my room, while they go out and relax.”
How it’s working
Back at Yuma, staff NCOs from Yuma’s headquarters squadron went into a huddle this summer soon after Estrada blew through town to talk to Marines about changing the barracks experience. They forwarded recommendations to their sergeant major that included an idea straight out of Estrada’s new playbook — fewer field days.
“I’m not saying that we don’t need to do field days every once in a while, but do we need to do two or three field days a week?” Estrada said. “Do we need to do it once a week?”
Residents of Yuma’s newly renovated Barracks 720, mostly bachelors with the headquarters squadron, have to endure the inspections and stress of field day only once a month. That change also loosens some rules and gives residents more leeway in making their rooms comfortable.
But monthly field days don’t mean cleanliness isn’t a priority. Every day, a few Marines sweep the barracks’ walkways, common spaces and smoking areas. Weekly checks by unit NCOs are supposed to ensure residents heed the rules and ready for the next shop-level inspection.
“The understanding is that as long as they are keeping a good general cleanup, we need not go back to command inspections. So far, that’s worked well,” said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Hamel, the squadron’s top enlisted leatherneck.
While painted walls are not allowed, residents can decorate their rooms to their liking. Photos and posters tacked on walls “have to be in good taste,” Hamel said, noting they must abide by existing Marine Corps regulations. That means no X-rated pictures.
Residents can use their own linens, whether it’s a handmade quilt by mom, a favorite NASCAR blanket or a set of 600 thread-count cotton sheets. The rule is “as long as it’s a neat appearance when they’re in the room,” Hamel said. So tuck in those corners.
Marines can rearrange the furniture — but they must keep a clear path to the door from the bathroom area. The rule is designed more for safety — a quick exit in case of a fire, for example — than anything else, he noted.
Barracks visitors still have a 10 p.m. weekly curfew. “That’s just for safety reasons on deck,” he said. Alcohol rules remain, with junior leathernecks 21 or older allowed one six-pack each and NCOs a 12-pack, although no hard liquor is allowed.
At Henderson Hall, however, Marines were lukewarm on the idea.
While most agreed they would be better off with fewer restrictions on their lives there — limitations on alcohol consumption and the visitor’s policy were brought up constantly — the Marines explained that field day was necessary and should be undertaken regularly.
“Field day is important. If you do it once a month, it should be intense because the trash will pile up,” said Cpl. Aaron Beard.
But another Marine, Cpl. Ryan Minnifield, said he can’t wait until field day goes to only once a month instead of each Thursday as it is at Henderson Hall.
“Sometimes, you just dread Thursdays because you want to go home and go to sleep,” he said. “If you’re an adult, nobody should have to look over your shoulder and tell you that your room is nasty.”
McCumber said that if left to their own devices, some Marines, like his old roommate from Camp Pendleton, would invariably live like pigs.
“I had to literally make him bathe,” McCumber said.
Marines like that would likely end up ruining the field day scale-back for everyone else eventually, so the Corps might be better off keeping things as they are, McCumber said.
He’s got a good reason for thinking that way. The Corps has a tradition of making the collective pay for an individual’s mistakes, something drilled in during boot camp to platoons of recruits who do push-ups and flutter kicks to work off the transgressions of an offender.
Estrada wants to move away from this style of leadership, which he said was necessary at one point in the Corps’ history because the average Marine used to be a lot more “hardheaded.”
He said Marines today are a “much smarter, brighter” group that still looks for discipline, “but that discipline doesn’t have to be negative. That leadership doesn’t have to be negative.”
It is the ability to switch gears to this new leadership style that will be the hallmark of a good staff NCO as the Corps moves toward more liberal barracks policies in the coming months, said Hamel, who challenges other sergeants major to make changes in their barracks.
“Don’t wait for the MarAdmin to come out. Implement some of these policies now. The sergeant major’s intent is already clear. Just challenge the Marines to act like grown-ups, then hold them accountable if they don’t,” he said.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
12-21-06, 05:19 AM #2
How spoiled our young Marines are today! In my day it was open squadbay, field day every Thursday night and absolutely no alcohol allowed.
12-21-06, 09:01 AM #3
This is really one of those matters that comes down to individual opinion. We will never see the day where every Marine in the Corps can find common ground on this matter. Personally, i'd rather take field day to my wife. SNCO's are kinder in regards to cleaning than my wife sometimes. All depends on the individual.
12-21-06, 10:46 AM #4Originally Posted by ErikHeiker
08-12-09, 08:23 PM #5
I have a couple things in regards to this segment. First, if you are of age, and somebody knocks on your door telling you to stand duty...say that you were drinking. No SNCO can put you on duty if you consumed alcohol. Second, is there any MARADMIN out yet? I am in Iraq and I have been living in a squadbay where we all have bootcamp sheets and everything has to look the same. I have a MSGT poking in my barracks everyday and it's beyond ridiculous. The whole uniformity thing was phased out to my knowledge. I don't see what being in a combat zone has to do with fung-sheui and looks.
08-12-09, 11:31 PM #6
This post is 3 years old man. You're a bit behind.
Safe sex or no sex, and no sex with the same sex!
08-12-09, 11:36 PM #7
Holy ****, this was in 2006?
Turns out, only about 2 percent of the things Marines wanted to change cost money, such as better plumbing and working air conditioners
**** off old salts, you want to live like **** in sub-par living quarters, you can set your house up the way I want it, I'll turn off your hot water heater and air conditioning and I'll come by and inspect. Otherwise this is my Corps now and its going to be run the way I want it.
I'm so sick and tired of seeing "old Corps" Marines *****ing that the new Marines have it too easy. Hey, guess what old man? I can add, and subtract. I'm alot smarter than you are, I volunteered during a time of war and I've been to that war, so don't ****ing treat me like I'm an idiot that needs to be babysat like you obviously were.
Personally, I wish the BEQ initiative would be set in place a little bit faster. Word was Marines were supposed to be living on the same level as airman and soldiers. Each Marine had his own room, his own bathroom, and working air conditioners and hot water heaters. Putting 3, 25 year old men in the same room without airconditioning in August is ****ing stupid. Period.
08-12-09, 11:39 PM #8
And if you can't ****ing tell, I totally tore into this ****ing ****bag lance on duty who looked like absolute ass in his charlies so I'm still worked up. Look. If your fat sags over your duty belt IN CHARLIES, you have a weight problem. Whether in regs or not.
08-13-09, 01:38 AM #9
So disgruntled! Our living conditions are sub-par, but it could be alot worse. I'm not gonna complain because **** just gets worse when you do.
Safe sex or no sex, and no sex with the same sex!
08-13-09, 01:47 AM #10
See thats the exact mentality that keeps Marines living in ****hole barracks from the 70's while the Air Force has professional lawn service and no duty NCOs and one to a room with their own thermostat, hot water, and a BATHTUB. (I've seen bricks in Oki with bathtubs but...no, I'd never get in one)
You just have to know how to complain and who to do it to. To complain about your living conditions, your room has to be spotless. They're not going to give you anything nicer if they can show someone "Look, he can't even take care of what he has now" (And I say he, as if you have your own room, when we all know in reality there's 2 or 3 of you in a 15x20ft room)
I complain every chance I get. I came from "newer" barracks before Iraq. Two to a room max, nice layout, looked "pretty" AC was cold, hot water, great bathrooms. Even had walk in closets.
Now we've got wall lockers. I don't know how it was in the Spanish American War when most Marines on leatherneck were in, but we've got ALOT of ****. CIF gear, uniforms, and civilian ****. Not to mention surf boards, guitars, all the big **** that every Marine has. There's no room. Three to a room? And then you get hit on field day for your cif issued items out. There's no room. Which is exactly why this BEQ plan was put into effect which still hasn't saw any progress. The Navy on Pearl Harbor has 20 story condos with elevators, the Army lives in fortress like resorts, and I've covered the AF. Why are Marines living in soviet-style apartments?
I won't say it was only my doing, but it was definitely Marines with mentalities just like mine that got the hot water issue brought up to our battalion CO which lead to a BGen from MarForPac coming to check out our barracks. If you never say "Hey SSgt, could you bring it up at the staff meeting that there's no air conditioning or hot water in the barracks?" the higher ups will *never* know and it will *never* get fixed.
08-13-09, 11:06 AM #11
Well, I'm glad to hear things are progressing. When I was in (all of just a few years ago), the leadership couldn't care less about the BEQ situation. Talking to our shop SNCO's and OIC only warranted the response "bring it to the BEQ manager." The two or three Marines during my barracks life that were the BEQ managers were terrible. Apparently, that position was given to Marines who got into trouble too many times. Company and Bn leadership never did anything to seriously address any situation. There was something like a month that we didn't have hot water. Finally, the Company Gunny tells us that the owner of what appeared to be a 4 man plumbing company was in jail. WTF? At least Marines in those barracks can now make their rooms their own, even if half the rooms can't be safely occupied by anyone.
08-13-09, 11:13 AM #12
Damn we had some good freakin' time in the barracks! Some of the best parties I ever been too. I got caught with a gal in my BEQ at one point. There go my landin' gear for me skeeter wings again. ^
All our rooms had to be Identical 24/7. This was taken on a Saturday morning. I spose I had just put on my shoes, that's why the rack in messed up.
wow big pic, sorry.
08-13-09, 11:32 AM #13
The 80's were a terrible time for hair and clothing.
08-13-09, 11:40 AM #14
No **** right? That's the entire problem, every ******* that runs the Corps thinks that because they had to deal with it, everyone below them should, and it's ****ty leadership. It's why after my first enlistment I'm done. I don't desire to be treated and housed like a child and not make **** doing it. Everyone tells me "Yeah your paychecks are small, but they pay for everything for you." Yeah, well so what, I'd rather go make more money, and use it to pay for my own damn home with food I like and still end up with the same amount of spending money.
08-13-09, 11:53 AM #15
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