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MILITARY MATTERS: Sgt. Maj. of the army tours Ft. Benning and talks military housing challenges

Updated: Oct. 31, 2020 at 12:21 AM EDT
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - A top leader with the U.S. Army talked about solutions and responded to concerns over military housing while on Fort Benning recently, touring places where some local soldiers live.

“A couple years ago, we were having a housing crisis and I want to make sure we don’t take our eye off the ball,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston.

On the heels of concerns over military housing on Fort Benning, including reports of mold and pest infestations, Grinston came to the installation to tour some homes and make sure they’re fulfilling obligations to have quality homes for soldiers and their families.

First Sgt. Eddie Fonoti, his wife Shelly, and their children live on Fort Benning. They hosted the senior army leaders, having just moved in a week earlier, after being in limbo for at least five days.

“Being a displaced family and having a short notice to move into an actually bigger house,” Sgt. Fonoti said.

“I was very happy with how quickly and smoothly everything went, how many hands were in this pot, mixing it for us. They understand we’re homeschooling our children now,” his wife added.

Grinston talked about the military branch’s new people first strategy, making that a priority now over readiness. It’s an action plan sent to lawmakers that are creating a Tenants Bill of Rights to protect the 86,000 families who live in privatized military housing.

“Housing, healthcare, child care, spouse employment, PCS moves, those are quality of life and for us, what that means is, where are we putting our resources?,” Grinston said. “Fort Benning has just committed about $450 million over the next four years to renovate housing.”

Sgt. Fonoti, who has 23 years in the army, said he wants his wife and six kids to be comfortable at their soldier’s home, telling them “as long as the family’s happy, I’m happy.”

“It’s a huge honor and opportunity to be the voice of Fort Benning, to showcase our home, especially to everyone off post,” Shelly Fonoti said.

A recent report released by the army inspector general showed a majority of families living on army bases were dissatisfied with living conditions and would move off base, if they could afford it. Grinston sees conditions improving and is promising to stay engaged.

“I’m coming out to make sure our [housing] partners are doing what we’ve asked them to do. For the most part, we see that,” Grinston said.

By 2021, plans already call for the army to also eliminate its lowest level of military housing.

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