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I-TEAM: New housing has same old problems at Fort Gordon, families say

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 7:19 PM EDT
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FORT GORDON, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-TEAM is investigating the biggest concern we’ve ever uncovered with military housing at Fort Gordon.

It’s not just because it could pose a serious health risk to families right now, but because it could have major implications for the future.

For more than 11 years now, the I-TEAM has exposed things like mold, electrical and gas issues, pest problems, all pieces of this picture mostly from Fort Gordon’s legacy homes, which is just a nice way of calling them old.

But now we’ve found that picture is expanding to include Fort Gordon’s newest neighborhood, meaning Balfour Beatty Communities – manager of privatized family housing at Fort Gordon – may no longer be able to blame new problems on old buildings.

Among the faces of the problem is the family of Capt. Samuel Choe.

He took an oath to fight for his country, but on April 26, he took a different oath before fighting for his daughter.

Now stationed halfway around the world, he flew 7,000 miles to testify on Capitol Hill before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about his family’s experience living on post at Fort Gordon.

He spoke of his daughter, and the health problems he blames on mold at the home they occupied on Fort Gordon.

“Her sense of self, her sense of worth, of who she is, has forever been changed. ... Her skin, once youthful and supple, is now reptilian in nature,” he testified to senators.

He told senators multiple doctors blamed mold, which he photographed in his home.

The family’s address was 149-A Cypress Circle at Fort Gordon.

The I-TEAM checked and found that’s a Lakeview Terrace address or Fort Gordon’s newest and supposedly nicest homes – a neighborhood reserved for families of officers and senior enlisted soldiers.

At the same time Choe was testifying on Capitol Hill, on April 26, Liz Riley tells the I-TEAM she was suffering from a rash on the same exact day.

She also lived on the same exact street as Choe’s old house.

“(I) couldn’t wash my son. Could barely change his diaper hurts to pick them up. Like I couldn’t do anything,” she said.

MORE THAN A DECADE OF I-TEAM COVERAGE:

She says she changed her diet, detergent, everything to try to get rid of the reptile-like rash. But nothing worked.

Then she says they found mold under a bathroom floor.

They suspected it could be in other places, too, when her husband found something else.

“He’s like, ‘Oh my gosh! You have to read this,’” she said.

He wanted her to read the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ report released the same day as the hearing.

By then, it was a few weeks old, but when Liz found Choe’s story and saw the pictures of his daughter’s rash, she almost couldn’t believe it.

“That’s literally what my hands look like. It looks like a reptile, like you know, she has all these eczema outbreaks, and it’s going out all of her body. She wakes herself up, and she’s bleeding,” she said.

That’s eerily similar to what Choe testified about his daughter waking up in the night “from her scratching while sleeping, and her bedsheets were also covered in her own blood. … She resembles a burn victim at her worst.”

Riley couldn’t believe the similarities while comparing notes.

“I would wake up at night, clawing my hands because they’re so irritated. Couldn’t sleep, and if I did sleep, it wakes me up,” she said.

She still remembers the moment she connected the dots.

“I couldn’t finish my dinner. I got up I started taking pictures off the walls, you know, I panicked. I’m like, ‘I can’t live here because that sounds exactly what I’m experiencing,’” she said.

Her worry then shifted to her young son and husband.

“Choe’s story was the, like, breaking point for me. I just couldn’t … that really sealed it.”

The family of three is now paying out of pocket to live in a hotel while other families continue to live there.

Another mother asked us not to use her name, but told us her son has been sick, too.

“It’s been doctor’s visits, it’s been inhalers, it’s been asthma flare-ups, it’s been skin issues, it’s been redoing his allergy shots for two more years when we were already finished,” she said.

We met this mother on a windy day in May when Sen. Jon Ossoff – chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations – returned to Fort Gordon for the first time since he chaired the hearings in D.C.

After the Army opened its own investigation into Balfour Beatty at Fort Gordon, Ossoff called on the secretary of defense to expand on that, but Secretary Lloyd Austin has yet to respond.

After more than a year of delays, the garrison commander says work should begin next month on a brand-new neighborhood, Pine Tree Terrace, with new homes at Fort Gordon.

The I-TEAM first gave you an exclusive look at these plans back in 2021.

With 75 percent of homes on post considered “legacy” or old, Col. Shaw Pick told the I-TEAM back then that this project is vital.

“It’s not going to get any easier to maintain these homes,” he said. “We have to put new construction on the ground.”

Choe, Riley and the other mother that talked to the I-TEAM didn’t live in an old house, though.

Lakeview is relatively new, which means new construction doesn’t mean much of anything to Riley.

“You couldn’t pay me to live there,” she said. “Nope.”

Even in brand-new homes?

Riley, “No. … The trust (is) severed. I do not trust you to maintain it. Even if we’re starting from scratch with a brand-new house, if something happens, and there is a leak or whatever. I absolutely do not trust this company to handle it properly.”

Choe says he’s also lost trust in Fort Gordon leadership.

“I am thankful the physicians both on post and off post provided extensive medical documentation to establish my daughter’s condition because unfortunately, there are certain members of the Fort Gordon community who are not as supportive,” he said. “And who actually said to my face they either doubted her condition, doubted the extenuating circumstances that led to it, or felt as though we were fabricating her condition to further our own personal cause.”

Instead his child has made Fort Gordon the poster child of sorts for problems with military housing.

One that appears brand-new homes might not be able to fix.

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