Why getting better barracks matters to the top enlisted Marine

by Vern Evans

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Giving Marines better barracks will take hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

But the top enlisted Marine said he’ll “never apologize” for demanding that money.

“If we’re going to continue with an all-volunteer force, then it’s OK to pay them, and it’s OK to give them a place where it’s safe for them to live and it’s OK to fuel them like a Division I athlete,” Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz said Monday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland. “Because, frankly, they deserve it. Because they’re the ones — as the commandant says — they will be the ones doing the fighting and the dying.”

Earlier in 2024, the Marine Corps unveiled its Barracks 2030 plan for revamping its barracks, the living quarters that typically house younger, unmarried enlisted Marines.

For now, Marines in some barracks have had to live with visible mold, vermin, broken appliances and other issues, reports from the Government Accountability Office and the media have found. Corps leaders have said the Barracks 2030 plan is aimed in part at keeping Marines from exiting the service.

But the plan, which will involve bulldozing the worst barracks and renovating others, won’t come cheap.

The Marine Corps plans to spend $274 million on barracks modernization in Fiscal Year 2025, a $65 million increase from the previous year.

Barracks modernization also tops the Corps’ unfunded priorities list, which spells out what the service would spend additional money on if there were room in the budget. On that list, the Marine Corps signaled to Congress that it would like an additional $230 million for the barracks, on top of the $274 million it already plans to spend in Fiscal Year 2025.

“We’re not asking for Taj Mahals,” Ruiz said Monday.

In previous years, Ruiz said, the Marine Corps opted not to make investments in infrastructure because it decided it had to spend money on modernizing. With the Force Design initiative, which then-Commandant Gen. David Berger rolled out in 2020, the Corps has overhauled its approach to fighting in preparation for potential conflict with the high-tech Chinse military.

“We’re transparent with that: Decisions were made not to invest in your buildings because we needed to buy these platforms in order for you to come home, in order for you to win,” Ruiz said. “But now it’s the time to do both. And it’s OK to ask for both.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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