Army shows off new apartments in wake of 'appalling' baracks video

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Sgt. Elaine Rodriguez can't wait until she is promoted one notch up the Army ladder to staff sergeant, so she can apply to live in the new apartments for single soldiers under construction at Fort Bragg.

Rodriguez, 22, of Vallejo, Calif., now lives in barracks on the sprawling Army post. She says the conditions aren't bad, but nothing like the apartments. They're a better deal than those off-post and nicer than most.

"This is awesome. You couldn't ask for more," Rodriguez said Wednesday after Army brass - including a four-star general, several three stars and the secretary of the Army - took a look inside the lone model at Randolph Pointe.

"It's a big fridge! A dishwasher, too? Wow!" she said, momentarily losing her military bearing in the model that included plastic food displays and photographs of a family.

The only evidence of construction was new blacktop driveways and wooden forms waiting cement foundations. But sometime next year, the 312 apartments in three-story buildings will rise in the field near Bragg's old main gate on Randolph Street. They will be a short stroll from the main post exchange and will have a pool, clubhouse with wireless Internet access and the rent will include most utilities.

The Army is eager to show off the new digs, after a soldier's father posted a video on YouTube last month showing dilapidated conditions inside some barracks at Fort Bragg. Defense Secretary Robert Gates later called the conditions appalling.

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Army Secretary Pete Geren said he was at Wednesday's ribbon cutting to emphasize that the Army cares about soldiers' living conditions. Since the video emerged, Geren said, the Army has made $248 million available for emergency repairs, included $2.9 million for repairs at Fort Bragg, and inspected 148,000 barracks rooms worldwide.

Eight soldiers were moved out of rooms deemed substandard, but Geren said they didn't pose threats to health or safety. Officials said none of the eight were at Fort Bragg.

"We're going to make sure we have the quality of life the soldiers deserve," Geren said. "The images you saw on that video were unacceptable. Are there going to be situations in these old barracks with plumbing issues? There will be until we replace them."

The new apartments will be available only to soldiers at a rank of staff sergeant or above, including officers. The per-bedroom rent is calculated at the monthly housing allowance for the lowest-ranking eligible soldier, which this year is $867. Higher-ranking soldiers get more and they can save the money for other things, officials said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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