Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 12th, 2007

When you think it can’t get worse—and it does

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From the Carpetbagger:

Given the reports lately about the Bush administration neglecting injured troops and sending additional soldiers into combat without the necessary equipment, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the two narratives were combined — sending injured troops into battle without the protection they need.

In Salon today, Mark Benjamin has the painful and discouraging story.

“This is not right,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. “This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers,” he said angrily. “If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight.”

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division’s 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier’s “physical profile,” an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier’s physical limitations because of medical problems — from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers’ profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.

Benjamin spoke with many troops in the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade and found, as Sgt. Jenkins put it, “This is about the numbers.” If that means doctors and commanders changing medical profiles and sending hurt soldiers to Iraq to give the appearance of units being sent at full strength, so be it.

This has all the makings of yet another breathtaking scandal.

Keep in mind, we’re not just talking about minor physical ailments here. This is about troops who literally can’t put on protective gear being sent to a war.

The injured soldiers interviewed by Salon, however, expressed considerable worry about going to Iraq with physical deficits because it could endanger them or their fellow soldiers. Some were injured on previous combat tours. Some of their ills are painful conditions from training accidents or, among relatively older troops, degenerative problems like back injuries or blown-out knees. Some of the soldiers have been in the Army for decades. […]

One female soldier with psychiatric issues and a spine problem has been in the Army for nearly 20 years. “My [health] is deteriorating,” she said over dinner at a restaurant near Fort Benning. “My spine is separating. I can’t carry gear.” Her medical records include the note “unable to deploy overseas.” Her status was also reviewed on Feb. 15. And she has been ordered to Iraq this week.

The captain interviewed by Salon also requested anonymity because he fears retribution. He suffered a back injury during a previous deployment to Iraq as an infantry platoon leader. A Humvee accident “corkscrewed my spine,” he explained. Like the female soldier, he is unable to wear his protective gear, and like her he too was ordered to Iraq after his meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon on Feb. 15. He is still at Fort Benning and is fighting the decision to send him to Baghdad. “It is a numbers issue with this whole troop surge,” he claimed. “They are just trying to get those numbers.”

Now, to be fair, it’s worth noting that the Salon piece focused exclusively on Fort Benning, Ga. (a base Bush is particularly fond of for public relations purposes). We don’t know if, or to what extent, similar problems exist at other bases.

But some are beginning to wonder.

Other soldiers slated to leave for Iraq with injuries said they wonder whether the same thing is happening in other units in the Army. “You have to ask where else this might be happening and who is dictating it,” one female soldier told me. “How high does it go?”

Good question.

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2007 at 4:51 pm

Made it!

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Hey, they have Internet now. So I will be able to do the occasional post, though not so much as at home. But still: you’ll hear from me.

Flight out was uneventful. United has created a new cabin class “Economy Plus”. They squeezed out almost all the leg room in some seats, and then charge extra if you want a seat with regular legroom: $54 for the flight SFO-BWI. $10.50 per inch of “additional” leg room.

I chose a seat in the exit row, and found myself sitting next to the entry door. Mistake. My feet were cold (bad seal on door, I imagine), and when I put my little bottle of water (purchased past the security point) down at my feet, the water froze solid.

Still, an uneventful if full flight. I finished the Tess Garritsen mystery I had brought: The Mephisto Club. Not recommended, alas. Many, many loose ends (presumably to carry into the plot in her next book), several spoilers for previous books in the series, and a thoroughly unpleasant, hostile, judgmental character as one of the leads. (There was no specific protagonist.) In other words, a sort of TV series rather than a novel, and who wants to spend time with someone so hostile and judgmental? Not me.

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2007 at 5:36 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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