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Billeting Management in Theaters of Operations

When a unit is preparing to enter a theater of operations, billeting often falls in the “we will cross that bridge when we come to it” category. In today’s military, billeting management is normally either detailed to the unit with the least pressing areas of interest or contracted to one of the many civilian service-support companies supporting military efforts in the theater.

A unit that is detailed to manage billeting normally assigns this duty to an officer and a noncommissioned officer. They gather all available regulations and service department pamphlets on billeting and, by trial and error, establish procedures and policies consistent with the area commander’s directives.

When billeting is provided by service-support contractors, the contractors normally begin by establishing their own living areas and creating policies and procedures consistent with Army regulations and the local commander’s directives, using examples of past policies and procedures and lessons learned from previous contracts. Contractors normally use an experienced billeting or housing manager, who establishes the foundation, work, and accountability procedures; standards of work; and administration.

Both the tasked unit and the civilian contractor need to remember that the policies and procedures established for billeting are living documents that must be reviewed frequently and revised as the command, clientele, and priorities change. Several phases of billeting must be considered when establishing and revising the policies and procedures. The most demanding and time consuming of these are the initial and buildup phases.

Initial Phase

Initially in a combat zone, Soldiers, Department of Defense civilians, and contractors often sleep in defensive fighting positions, tents, and (although it is against policy) the combat and commercial vehicles that the occupants fight and travel in. All of these provide shelter, a little comfort, and a sense of “my space” for the occupant. Everyone constantly looks for any available space and any available materials to improve their shelters. Unless it is specifically prohibited and enforced, nothing is considered off limits.

Space and materials are claimed by “right of possession” by individuals, groups, units, private contractor companies, and even by refugees following the trail of sympathy, food, and water provided to them by military and contract personnel. This claim of space and materials happens even though military units are assigned areas of responsibility and contractors are told where to set up shop.

The billeting function in this phase mainly consists of documenting the existing hard structures by location, serviceability, and occupant; documenting the assigned tents or logistics support areas; ensuring that trash pickup points are established; and ensuring that latrines and shower points are designated. A military unit in charge of billeting may contract local labor for police and cleaning.

Buildup Phase

In the buildup phase, changes occur every day. Logistics support areas, service support areas, and military units will probably be redesignated, relocated, renamed, and consolidated. Headquarters for units and contractors are established and often relocated. Offices begin moving from CONEXs (containers express) into buildings or improved tents, B-huts (semipermanent wooden structures built to last 3 to 4 years), or SEA (Southeast Asia) huts (16- by 32-foot wood-framed tents with metal roofs, extended rafters, and screened-in areas). Regular sewage and trash pickup is established, and containerized housing starts to arrive. During this time, military units and contractors submit many requests for furniture, cleaning supplies, facility maintenance supplies, and more space.

The organization in charge of billeting should establish the billeting office and appoint the billeting supervisor or manager but avoid establishing a housing committee. A competent supervisor, monitored by a military mayor or sergeant major, who can interpret the policy and intent of the commander, make decisions, and be held accountable for those decisions, is all that is needed and required.

The complainant will always push demands for priority and petty complaints up to the highest level possible. Managers should refer these to their sergeant major or the mayor. The commander should avoid getting involved in these issues; if he doesn’t, he should be prepared for numerous time-consuming meetings with units and contractors.

The billeting office should publish a billeting policy that covers fire and safety, security, force protection, cleanup, and individual, unit, and company responsibilities. An order-of-merit list should be established for contractors moving into any improved quarters (first-in-first-out by priority of the command); this is a living document.

Although billeting management is not an area of immediate importance at the beginning of an operation, it must be planned, trained for, and manned before deployment. Billeting must be managed as quickly as the military situation permits in order to ensure the responsibility, accountability, and control of all billeting assets and to ensure a smooth transition for growth or demobilization.

Keith A. Stepp is a deputy sheriff in Clarksville, Tennessee. He was the billeting supervisor in Mosul, Iraq, when he wrote this article. He holds a master’s degree in applied project management from Villanova University.

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