FORT BLISS, Texas – Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after watching a YouTube video showing poor barracks conditions at the Army's Fort Bragg in North Carolina, said Thursday that what he saw was "appalling" and that all commanders must ensure that their troops have decent living quarters.
"Soldiers should never have to live in such squalor," Gates said during a speech to a packed auditorium of senior enlisted soldiers.
The nearly 10-minute video, put together by the father of an 82nd Airborne paratrooper, showed mold, peeling paint and broken plumbing fixtures in the Korean War-era barracks. The video triggered a worldwide inspection of Army barracks when it surfaced last week.
Gates' comments were the first he's made about the problems, and he said that if local resources are not available for the soldiers, then troops must alert their commanders.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said he does not believe that Gates had any particular person in mind when he mentioned that commanders needed to be responsible.
"He knows that the Army is aggressively looking into this matter and is confident that they will deal with it accordingly," said Morrell. "But, in general terms, he believes in accountability up the chain of command."
Gates watched the video on the plane en route to Mexico City on Tuesday.
"The conditions were appalling," Gates said Thursday.
The soldier's father, Ed Frawley, said he was disgusted by the conditions that greeted his son and the rest of his 82nd Airborne unit that returned last month from a 15-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Army leaders this week said improvements were coming, but some of the problems couldn't be fixed quickly. By Wednesday, the barracks had new paint, and water fountains were fixed, but work crews still labored on the plumbing.
Gates warned in his speech Thursday that, "current needs must not be sacrificed to future capabilities, whether the need is proper treatment of wounded warriors" or getting heavily armored vehicles and more surveillance capabilities to the battlefront.