FORT SILL In Bad Shape, Officials Say

Monday, September 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(LAWTON) - Officials say Fort Sill's condition is deteriorating as its operating budget dwindles, leaving troops to work in cramped, World War II-era structures and live in barracks with leaky roofs.

``This is tough to take,'' said Col. George W. Steuber, Fort Sill's garrison commander. ``We bring these young soldiers in here and tell them they are the very best. We give them the very best instruction and the very best equipment. And then they're forced to live and work in aged and dilapidated buildings because we don't have the funds to maintain them.

``It's real demoralizing _ to say the least.''

Broken pipes and leaky roofs corrode barrack walls, causing ceiling tiles to collapse and soldiers to search for dry spots to sleep. Rust covers hundreds of M-16 rifles in a damp room, and mechanics have to work on $1.4 million Paladin Howitzers outside in the sun.

Fort Sill has the largest artillery concentration in the free world. But operating budgets have dwindled continuously since 1987.

Fort Sill received $113 million less this year to operate than it did 14 years ago. Decreases in money allocated for Fort Sill's operating budget began at the end of President Reagan's presidency, and the decline continued under President George Bush.

Fort Sill received an annual operating budget of $152 million through 1992 _ $71 million below its 1987 budget.

``I think we're looking at a horrendous problem,'' said Steuber, who is responsible for the physical infrastructure of the post. ``And this is not just a Fort Sill problem; it's an Army-wide problem.''

Steuber said he operates with one-third of the maintenance budget needed to properly maintain Fort Sill. He pulls 341 troops annually from the post ranks to work where civilian maintenance crews once did.

Four members of the House Armed Services Committee on Military Readiness toured Fort Sill on Aug. 30. U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., the committee chairman, led the bipartisan contingent.

``This looks like something you would expect to see in a Third World country,'' he said as he left the post.

Weldon vowed to fight for Fort Sill in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said the fight is long overdue.

``This has been a crisis,'' said Inhofe, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Readiness Committee. ``Under (President) Clinton, we've had years of neglect and underfunding. I'm really offended that people are just now saying this is a problem. This is something I've fought for years.''