LTG Omar Jones, Commanding General, IMCOM, center, is briefed by Brian Smith, with Fort Belvoir Garrison Housing Manager about the renovated enlisted barracks, during a Congressional staff delegation housing tour, Dec. 9. (Photo Credit: Paul Lara; Fort Belvoir Public Affairs)
Fort Belvoir McRee Barracks sets ‘new standard’ for Army single enlisted housing
When Fort Belvoir began renovations to its McRee Barracks for single enlisted service members, it was decided to prioritize available space with unexpected amenities – including full kitchen and washer/dryer – as well as greater privacy, to foster a safe and secure community, improved health and easier-to-maintain infrastructure, according to Lt. Col. Amber Ryder, Headquarters Battalion Commander.
Ryder said that the upgraded amenities have boosted morale, as it “treats soldiers like adults,” by giving them space to live, work, cook and play with privacy just steps away, anytime it is needed.
“This support helps them living in a barracks where they have more responsibility. When you're giving people all the things they would have in an apartment, then they do have that responsibility. It's our responsibility to help train them and give them guidance on what to do,” Ryder said. “We're not just worried about soldier skills. We're worried about life skills for them too.”
Brian Smith, Garrison Housing manager, said one of the most significant improvements was converting a hallway landing into livable space.
“What is now a common living space [for four service members] was just a foyer and landing. Nobody used it but the pizza delivery guy, so we cannibalized that to create a social space,” Smith said during a recent Congressional staff delegation visit to the installation. “We were also very conscientious about energy conservation, so we earned a lot of energy credits on LED lighting and other systems that increase our conservation profile.”
SPC Taylor Sewell, with Alpha Company, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, moved into the new barracks last March from Fort Stewart, Georgia, and said she was not expecting such a major upgrade in her quality of life, including a private bedroom, complete with lavatory and storage.
“I think they’re great,” Sewell said. “We have a dishwasher and our own bathrooms, so nothing to complain about here.”
Her barracks mate, SPC Emily Kirwan, with Troop Command, Alpha Company, noted that while she works in the Medical Readiness Center, her barracks mates work in radiology, and she said she would have never met them without sharing a home. Kirwan said she’s never felt this safe in barracks before. The main entrance, the shared entrance to each floor, and her individual room all require keycode access.
“My favorite part of living in these barracks is the layers of security to get here. To get to me in my room, it would take someone to get through three locked doors and we all have separate codes to get into those doors. So, I feel very safe living here,” Kirwan said, adding that the shared space creates accountability to each other.
“If something goes wrong, or we hear something in the middle of night, we all meet up in the common area, make a plan and then go do that,” Kirwan said. “It also boosts my morale. I think it helps prevent isolation, to have people that you're always running into. We do everything together on the weekends. It's really nice.”
Smith agreed, noting that the careful balance of privacy against isolation was part of the design.
“We've given everybody a private room with a private lavatory, study space and privately controlled storage. But then you’ve got the central area, so you're going to have some daily socialization.”
Each bedroom is also equipped with individual heating and air conditioning systems, which Smith said is a maintenance transformation.
“The big driver behind that was taking care of our perpetual mold and mildew problems, as well as deficiencies in HVAC, when we were on a central steam and chilled water plant. When that would go down, we'd lose the whole compound,” Smith recalled. “We went to individual systems so that as one fails, we're able to come in, unplug it, put a new one in and get soldiers back into duty.”
Smith said some security and accountability designs were intended to reduce sexual assault, including something as simple as a clothes washer and dryer.
“We put in-room laundry, which is something that's not typical in a barracks environment,” Smith said. “They still have a central laundry facility for those big wash days. But if you're going to do laundry in the middle of the night, you don’t need to go to a remote laundry room; you can just knock it out [in your room].”
The expanded shared space also provides room for a stove, oven, microwave and full-size refrigerator. This was a high priority after Fort Belvoir’s dining facility was closed for lack of participation. The Armed Forces Wellness Center teamed up with Headquarters Battalion to provide recipe books with healthy meals roommates can prepare together, according to AFWC educator Danielle Sprunger.
“We are able to give tailored nutrition information on healthy meals and how to shop, prep, and cook these meals in the barracks,” Sprunger said. “We are also there to provide cooking demos, along with multiple education classes on the basics of nutrition, meals in minutes, and how to have a healthy metabolism.”
Ryder said reaction to the new design has been positive, and she looks forward to the completion of upgrades. McRee Barracks will eventually house 400 service members, when the final set of 112 rooms are completed later this year. “Hopefully we can get to a point where all barracks are like this in the Army,” Ryder said.