Offutt Air Force Base’s senior leaders admitted Tuesday that their oversight of nearly 2,000 homes for service members had slipped in the 14 years since base officials turned housing over to private management, a change that has prompted some residents to complain of poor living conditions and slow repairs.
Col. Gavin Marks, commander of the Offutt-based 55th Wing, pledged to change that.
“As an institution, we took our eyes off this. We privatized it, and then we walked away,” Marks told a crowd of nearly 100 residents at a town hall meeting in the Rising View community Tuesday evening. “This is command business. We are getting at this.”
Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. military has turned over responsibility for building, managing and maintaining most of its family housing to private companies. In 2005, Omaha-based Burlington Capital assumed control of Offutt’s on- and off-base housing, building more than 900 new units and renovating hundreds of others in the Rising View community north of Capehart Road.
But service members from around the country testified at congressional hearings last February about living in poorly constructed houses infested with mold or bugs, and managed by companies that were slow to make repairs. Though no one from Offutt testified, some of those problems were echoed on Offutt-focused Facebook pages like “Rising View Rants” and other social media.
Following the hearings, senior Pentagon leaders ordered inspections of every privatized military home in the country. At Offutt, the survey revealed 96 homes with what inspectors described as “health and safety” violations, such as mold or lead paint.
“To date, all of them have been rectified,” said Sara Webster, the Rising View leasing manager.
A survey showed that 76% of Offutt residents were satisfied with the health and safety of their homes, well below the Air Force average. Burlington Capital’s marks in surveys had slipped badly since 2017.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Several residents at the town hall meeting said they are afraid to move out of their Rising View homes because managers have a reputation for loading up damage charges during final move-out inspections.
“You charge outrageous amounts to get out of Rising View,” one woman said.
Webster said every inspection is reviewed by members of Offutt’s military housing office. She noted that many of Rising View’s 38 employees are themselves residents of the community, and former service members or military spouses.
“We do our best to treat you guys fairly,” she said. “We just ask that you turn it back the way we turned it to you.”
Residents also complained that roads in the community had fallen into disrepair. Marks said he had noticed the same thing since moving to Offutt in June.
“It drives me crazy — the roads on and off base,” he said.
Dominic Vaccaro, who heads Burlington Capital’s real estate division, said the company has been catching up on roadwork recently after two years focused on repairing roofs and clearing out trees damaged by tornadoes and a severe hailstorm in June 2017.
“We did struggle with responding to the storm a couple of years ago,” he said.
Marks said the problems with housing and roads have his “full attention,” and he said he set up a new hotline to handle complaints if residents aren’t satisfied. And he plans to continue the housing inspections each year.
Tiffaney Thompson, a 1½-year resident of Rising View with her husband, Aaron, said the tornado-damaged roof of a house across the street from theirs was repaired only a few weeks ago. But said she was impressed with the 55th Wing’s apparent commitment to fixing problems in the community.
“I’m really glad they’re taking the initiative now to get ahead of it, but I think they still need to catch up on some of the old ones,” she said. “The commander’s got a lot on his plate. He’s doing everything he can.”
1 of 27
Offutt Air Force Base is named for Lt. Jarvis Offutt — the first airman from Omaha killed in World War I.
1891: The area now known as Offutt Air Force Base was first commissioned as Fort Crook, an Army post to house cavalry soldiers and their horses. This photo, circa 1905, shows mounted officers and infantry troops assembling on the parade ground. The officers' quarters in the background still stand today, but the closing of Offutt's stables in 2010 ended the base's equine tradition.
1946: The World's Fair of Aviation was held at Offutt Air Force Base, including a race between a 1912 airplane and 1912 automobile. The 1912 airplane easily won, but provided sharp contrast to the sleek, modern "600-mile-per-hour aircraft" on display at the fair.
1952: Painter Frank Anania places the final bolt in the SAC emblem, newly placed on the command building at Strategic Air Command headquarters. After the command was created in 1946, SAC headquarters were moved from Andrews Field, Maryland, to Offutt Air Force Base. SAC's high-flying reconnaissance planes and bombers would go on to play a global role from the onset of the Cold War through the last bomb of the Persian Gulf War.
1956: The Strategic Air Command "nerve center" gets a new headquarters building at Offutt Air Force Base.
1957: Even since the late 1950s, Strategic Air Command has been holding open house events at Offutt Air Force Base to display and demonstrate aircraft for civilian visitors. Each year, the open house and air show at Offutt features aerial acts or reenactments, static displays, and booths showcasing military history and capabilities.
1959: The first SAC museum consisted of a section of abandoned runway near the north edge of Offutt Air Force Base outside of Bellevue. However, the outdoor display left the aircraft vulnerable to the elements.
1961: A Royal Air Force bomber crashes at Offutt Air Force Base. Beginning in the late 1950s, the RAF maintained small detachment and service facility for Vulcan bomber planes at Offutt, often participating in defense exercises and demonstrations at the base until their retirement and deactivation in 1982. This plane crashed at take-off at the northwest end of the main runway and then slid across Highway 73-75. All seven passengers survived.
1962: Just weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy visits Offutt Air Force Base, accompanied by Gen. Thomas Power of Strategic Air Command, right.
1962: Actor Rock Hudson receives a B-52 bomber briefing during a visit to Omaha and Offutt Air Force Base. He began filming "A Gathering of Eagles" in May of that year.
1967: An early photograph of the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic in Bellevue. The clinic has served Offutt Air Force Base since 1966 and was remodeled in 2013, including a grand staircase, larger physical therapy and mental health areas, and a more private mammography waiting area.
1970: The world's largest aircraft at that time, the C5 Galaxy was displayed as part of the open house for civilian visitors at Offutt Air Force Base.
1989: A conference room in the SAC underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base. Strategic Air Command would be formally disestablished in 1992, but Offutt would remain the headquarters for the new United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).
1992: The Strategic Air Command Memorial Chapel holds a Sunday morning service as a reminder of those who have given their service and those who have died during the Command's 46-year history. Founded in in 1946, the command was dissolved in a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base.
1997: OPPD worker Craig Azure of Ashland holds a power line up across Platteview Road near Highway 50 so that an Albatross airplane can fit under it. After SAC was dissolved, the museum moved into a new indoor facility in 1998. Airplanes were moved from their old location at Offutt Air Force Base to their new and current home near Mahoney State Park off I-80.
2000: The parade grounds gazebo at Offutt is dedicated in honor of Airman 1st Class Warren T. Willis, who was killed in an aircraft accident the previous December.
2000: President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally at Offutt Air Force Base.
2003: More than 300 anti-nuclear protesters gather outside Kinney Gate at Offutt Air Force Base. The rally was part of a weekend of protest against nuclear weapons, and was organized in response to an extensive nuclear arsenal review being held at the base.
2006: Vice President Dick Cheney greets service men and women following a speech at Offutt Air Force Base's Minuteman missile in Bellevue.
2012: Dignitaries clap along to an armed forces medley as ground is broken for the new U. S. Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. From left: Neb. Rep. Adrian Smith, Rep. Lee Terry, Neb. Governor Dave Heineman, General C. Robert Kehler, Commander USStratcom, Sen. Ben Nelson, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and Mayor of Bellevue, Rita Sanders.
2012: Chris Shotton created this thank you message to the airmen and troops flying in and out of Offutt Air Force Base. Employees of area Walmart stores have been writing giant messages in fields near Highway 370 for years.
2013: Senior Airman Kevin Chapman works the desk at the new Public Health Clinic located in the Ehrling Bergquist military medical clinic.
2014: The new MERLIN SS200m Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar System, with the control tower in the background, photographed at Offutt Air Force Base. The system was moved here from Afghanistan in order to help detect large flocks and prevent damages to aircraft from bids, which cost the Air Force millions of dollars each year.
2015: An aerial photo from late February of the construction site for StratCom's new $1.2 billion headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base. Despite numerous delays and setbacks, the building would be completed in 2018, six years after construction began. StratCom would then spend the next year outfitting the structure with more than $600 million worth of high-tech communications and security gear.
2016: President Barack Obama arrives in Omaha after landing at Offutt Air Force Base. While in Omaha, Obama met with the family of Kerrie Orozco, visited a local teacher, and addressed a crowd of about 8,000 at Baxter Arena.
2019: This year, U.S. Strategic Command unveiled a new Command and Control Facility located at Offutt Air Force Base. The "battle deck," shown here, features computer workstations, soundproofing, and the ability to connect instantly to the White House and Pentagon.
2019: Luke Thomas and Air Force Tech Sgt. Vanessa Vidaurre at a flooded portion of Offutt Air Force Base. In March, historic flooding included breaches of two levees protecting the base from the Missouri River.