Military News

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chairman Promises Wounded Warriors They Will be Cared for, Remembered

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 9, 2008 - The United States will not forget the servicemembers who have made incredible sacrifices on the nation's behalf, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the "A Salute to Our Troops" dinner sponsored by United Service Organizations and Microsoft here last night. "I promise you we will never, ever forget,"
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said told the 25 wounded warriors, their guests and corporate representatives. "You are our inspiration, and we care for you, and we will always care for you."

Nor, Mullen said, would the country forget the families who have stood beside the servicemembers.

"I give equal praise to the family members ... as well as those who sacrificed so much," he added. "You're very special people. You have given more than any of us really know."

Mullen had said earlier that as with many other events where he has the opportunity to interact with servicemembers, he would take away far more from the night than he would give.

Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington, echoed that sentiment.

"You all are so incredibly special," she told the wounded warriors during the dinner. "For us to share a day like today with you is the greatest gift that we have."

The wounded warriors -- on a weekend trip from Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio -- will have some great experiences to take home, as well.

They arrived Nov. 7 and were warmly welcomed during a reception at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. Hosted by the USO in partnership with Microsoft, the troops were treated to one-on-one time with celebrities such as James Brown, host of CBS television's "The NFL Today," comedian Ben Bailey, actress Carmen Electra, and country music singer-songwriter Stephen Cochran, a former Marine who broke his back in six places when he was ambushed while serving in Afghanistan.

That however, was just the warm-up for the rest of the weekend.

Yesterday, the group began with a chilly, but cheery, boat tour that took them past many historical sites including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Ground Zero. Then it was off to Little Italy for lunch and a brief performance by the USO Liberty Belles.

Despite the threatening weather, the majority of the group elected to attend a scheduled ceremony at Ground Zero after lunch. It was brief and emotional for many, yet still a highlight, for many of the servicemembers.

"It was kind of emotional, because ... that's where it all started -- the wars," said
Army Cpl. Taylor Harder. "I've been there before, but I've never actually got to see down inside."

Harder's right foot was shattered in January when a roadside bomb detonated during a route-clearing mission in Iraq. He's currently recovering at Walter Reed.

"This afternoon, being at Ground Zero, that's very emotional," said
Army Spc. Catherine Neary. "It's something that I won't forget."

Neary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring while serving at Camp Victory, Iraq.

The experience of visiting the site where it all began may have been tough for the troops, but the evening was downright fun. With American tenor Roberto Iarussi singing the national anthem and a brief operatic selection and some heartfelt country tunes from Cochran, the evening ended on an "up" note.

Before heading for home, the servicemembers will attend a special performance tomorrow of the Radio City Music Hall's "Christmas Spectacular," featuring the Rockettes. They'll be part of an audience of 5,000 servicemembers and their families invited to the show as a larger piece of USO and Microsoft's "A Salute to Our Troops" weekend.

Leadership in Tough Times

Times are getting tougher. Most of us are not the top person in leading our organization; we are line supervisors and middle managers; but it’s still getting tougher. While we don’t make the big decisions we have a responsibility to provide leadership for our organizations and for our followers. Indeed, if enough of us in the ranks make small adjustments the cumulative effect on our organizations may forestall the sweeping cut-backs coming from the top. We have a responsibility to act and here are five cards you can play:


Soldier Wounded on Patrol in Iraq Defies Death Three Times

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 7, 2008 - The detonation of a large roadside bomb near Baghdad on May 3, 2005, caused enough damage to
Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett's body to cost him his life -- and it did, at least temporarily. Bartlett was providing route security with 1st Battalion, 64th Armor in the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team near Baghdad when an armor-piercing bomb behind a road barrier was remotely detonated.

"It blew through my vehicle and basically cut my face in half and took my gunner's legs and took the top of my truck commander's head off, and then went out the other side of the vehicle and kept on going," he said. "I think they said it was a 40-pounder, [but] I can't be for certain on that."

What he is certain of is that the bomb contained ball bearings that caused severe trauma to his hands and chest.

"My gunner and I were just embracing each other, because we thought we were about to die and didn't know who else was hit," Bartlett said. "I'd lost sight in my left eye and my right eye was going in and out of vision, [and] I couldn't do anything with my hands. Obviously, I had a head trauma, and I was losing air with every breath."

As it turned out, Bartlett had a collapsed lung and internal bleeding.

Fortunately, a second truck commander sitting behind Bartlett was thrown clear of the vehicle. He awoke in the middle of the street and, after three tries, was able to open door of the truck, which somehow was still running.

"He helped get me to the back seat and drove my gunner and me out of there," he said. "The truck was just grinding with metal. Ball bearings went through the motor, through the transmission, and all the tires were riding on their rims."

The truck lasted long enough to get the soldiers to another truck in their convoy, which in turn got them back to the support hospital at Camp Rustamiyah. A medical evacuation helicopter had been called, but it didn't arrive before Bartlett stopped breathing.

"I ended up dying there," he said. "I respiratory arrested on them, and they did an emergency [tracheotomy] and got me going again."

The helicopter evacuated Bartlett to the 86th Combat Area Support Hospital in Balad, where he died again. Doctors revived him, and he was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he stayed for a couple of days before moving on to Walter Reed
Army Medical Center here.

"The planes were running full, and they wanted to send the people who had a chance for living [to Walter Reed]," Bartlett said.

Nearly five days after he was injured, Bartlett arrived at Walter Reed where his mother, father and brother were waiting. But when doctors brought him out of a drug-induced coma, he stopped breathing again. Again, doctors were able to revive him.

"Twice in Iraq and once at Walter Reed and once when I was little, but that doesn't count for this," Bartlett said with a chuckle as he tallied the number of times his heart has stopped. "I just think God's got other plans for me."

After 18 months at Walter Reed, he worked to get stationed at home in Gilbert, Ariz., and attached to the Veterans Affairs medical facility there. Since his surgeries were scheduled every three months, he said, he figured he'd free up a bed for another servicemember and just fly back to Walter Reed for additional surgeries.

In the middle of his recovery, Bartlett reconnected with a woman he'd met before he deployed who participated in a fundraiser during his recovery that made it possible for the soldier's family to be with him.

"We started dating after I got blown up," Bartlett said of his relationship with his wife, Jordan. The two had been introduced before he left for Iraq, but Jordan decided he was too old -- he enlisted at 30 -- and he wanted to be single while in the military, Bartlett explained.

"I didn't want to put anybody through me not coming home," he said. "I knew what I was doing. ... [I was] a scout sniper."

After his first surgery, Bartlett went home on convalescent leave and was thanking everyone for their support when one of his buddies asked him if he remembered Jordan.

"I said, 'Yes,' and went over to her and told her she didn't know it yet, but I was going to kiss her in three months when the swelling in my face went down," he said. "The next day, we went on a date and we've been together ever since."

While Bartlett continues to heal and waits for medical boards to determine his level of disability, he has picked up the cause of urging other servicemembers to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"These guys just have to take advantage of that and realize that to be vulnerable is OK," he said. "You're in good company, so you're not vulnerable."

Bartlett said his goal is making "America and the world a better place." The Purple Heart he earned in Iraq might say to some that he's already done that, but Bartlett doesn't see it that way.

"That's the medal you get for being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "It's the award that everybody wants, but doesn't want to go through the process of getting. It changes your life forever. War changes you forever, but getting injured in war definitely increases that."

Until he learns the outcome of his medical boards, Bartlett said, he is undecided about what his future holds. But, he added, he has no regrets about his past.

"It's the best thing I ever did in my life," he said. "I love the military and I love the United States so much more now. I really understand everything. I was a skeptic that our government was doing a good job and I was wrong. I was absolutely wrong."

To hear Bartlett's story in his own words, search on You Tube for "Sgt. Robert Bartlett."

U.S., Japan Committed to Transformation Despite Delays, Admiral Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 7, 2008 - Both the United States and Japan remain committed to moving about 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, but budget constraints could cause the process to take longer and cost more than initially expected, the senior U.S. commander in the Pacific reported.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating discussed military transformation initiatives, including the Defense Policy Review Initiative focused on the U.S.-Japan alliance, during sessions in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday and at the Foreign Press Center on Nov. 5.

The plan includes moving 8,000 Marines and their families from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam, relocating two U.S. air bases in Japan from urban to rural areas, and realigning the Japan Self-Defense Forces to complement the U.S. realignments.

The plan is expected to reduce the U.S. footprint in Japan to about 10,000 Marines, while taking advantage of opportunities provided in Guam.

"The two governments of the United States and Japan have recommitted at the very highest levels -- prime minister and president -- to the eventual success of the DPRI," Keating said at the Foreign Press Center.

But budgetary challenges "measured in the billions of dollars" that both countries face could cause slight delays in how quickly the relocation occurs, he said. Japan agreed to pick up about $6 billion of the cost, and initial plans called for the move to be completed by 2014.

A Government Accountability Office report issued in May noted that some Defense Department and Guam officials believed the schedule was overly optimistic in light of financial shortfalls and infrastructure requirements in Guam.

"It'll take a little bit longer to effect – we won't be done by 2014, or maybe even 2015, but it's about a decade in execution," Keating said. "It will cost us a little bit more money than we currently have budgeted, but our countries remain committed."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Guam in May to get a firsthand look at growth under way to prepare for the Marines' arrival.

The secretary took a helicopter tour of Andersen
Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam and other island facilities to see construction already started in preparation of the arrival of members of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and an estimated 9,000 family members.

"All in all, it will be one of the largest movements of military assets in decades and continue the historic mission of the United States
military presence on Guam: to serve as the nation's first line of defense and to maintain a robust military presence in a critical part of the world," Gates said.

Keating called the recent move of the USS George Washington to Japan a broad-reaching transformational issue in the region. The
Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier arrived at Fleet Activities Yokosuka on Sept. 25, and headed out to sea Oct. 1 for its first operational training in the region.

"The support of the Japanese government in moving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Japan was ... significant," Keating said. "It's been years in the making, and it's a very strong signal of the spirit of cooperation that's so prevalent in our dealings with Japan."

Keating spoke in broad terms about challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, which spans half the globe, emphasizing the importance of partnerships in the U.S. security cooperation plan.

"We want to represent the strength and the capabilities of the United States
military, but we don't want to overdo that," he said. "We would much rather have a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere that we enjoy in almost every part of our [area of responsibility] rather than rely on military power."

Meanwhile, Keating said U.S. Pacific Command is watching closely the "potential areas of concern" in its region. These include terrorist threats in the southern Philippines from the Jamaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf organizations, as well as tensions between India and Pakistan, North and South Korea and China and Taiwan.

Keating said he continuously emphasizes the importance of multilateral cooperation that promotes regional stability during his meetings with
military, political and commercial leaders.

"We do all that we can to reassure all of our partners and allies and friends in the region that we are all about a stable, secure environment with economic prosperity for all," he said.

DoD Announces $400 Million Investment To Basic Research

The Department of Defense today announced plans to invest an additional $400 million over the next five years to support basic research at academic institutions.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates secured the additional funding in the fiscal 2009 President's budget request to Congress to expand research into new and emerging scientific areas and to foster fundamental discoveries related to the DoD's most challenging technical problems. The DoD published a 'Strategic Plan For Basic Research' last summer, which built the case for this effort. Acknowledging this need, Congress authorized and appropriated funds to support these significant increases in basic research investment.

By making these additional investments, the DoD aims to "sustain and strengthen the nation's commitment to long-term basic research", as recommended by the National Research Council's 'Rising Above the Gathering Storm' report and to address similar recommendations from numerous other independent national security and scientific advisory groups.

"These new grants will lead to discoveries in fundamental fields which underpin many of the technologically complex systems fielded in today's Armed Forces," said William Rees, Jr., the deputy under secretary of defense for laboratories and basic sciences.

The anticipated awards will be intended for individual investigators and provide sufficient funding to support a cadre of graduate students working with the faculty member to make substantial and sustained progress in research areas of importance to the DoD. Merit-based awards, based on peer review, will support projects beginning in fiscal 2009 that will be funded for five years. Exceptionally meritorious projects that can be completed in less time will also be considered for funding.

Projects will be based on numerous academic disciplines, including: physics, ocean science, chemistry, electrical engineering, materials science, environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, information sciences,
civil engineering, mathematics, chemical engineering, geosciences, atmospheric science, and aeronautical engineering.

Topics for the initial funding will focus on the following areas of technical challenge: counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD), network sciences, energy and power management, quantum information sciences, human sciences, science of autonomy, information assurance, biosensors and bio-inspired systems, information fusion and decision science, and energy and power management.

DoD research offices that will make the awards, contingent upon the receipt and evaluation of sufficiently high quality proposals, include the
Army Research Office , the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research .

Information on specific program announcements and solicitations supported by this funding can be found at , as well as at the respective research office Web sites.

DoD Names Two Additional National Security Science And Engineering Fellows

The Department of Defense today announced two additional National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows (NSSEFF), bringing the total number of distinguished scientists and engineers in the inaugural round of this prestigious program to eight.

Professor Constance Chang-Hasnain, University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Margaret Murnane, University of Colorado at Boulder, join the other notable university faculty announced by the DoD in June 2008. "Every NSSEFF award--up to $3 million in total direct research support for up to five years--provides DoD with top-tier researchers from U.S. universities, each conducting long-term, unclassified, basic research on challenging technical problems of strategic national security importance," said William Rees, Jr., deputy under secretary of defense for laboratories and basic sciences. "It also affords significant opportunities for Fellows to contribute to research programs within the DoD laboratories."

Selected from over 350 applicants to the fiscal 08 round, the eight researchers from the first NSSEFF competition "are expected to make considerable discoveries in the core science and engineering disciplines underpinning the
technology of future DoD systems," said Rees. Rees also noted that the fiscal 09 NSSEFF competition is well underway and that selectees are anticipated to be announced by year's end.

Additional information on the NSSEFF is available online at

Gates Emphasizes Warrior Care in Veterans Day Message

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 7, 2008 - In his 2008 Veterans Day message, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscores the Defense Department's commitment to the nation's wounded warriors and their families. Here is the secretary's message:

"On Veterans Day we pay tribute to those who have fought for our country from its earliest days to the present. This day reminds us of how important it is that the men and women who wear this country's uniform know how grateful their fellow Americans are for that service.

"The holiday's birthplace is my home state of
Kansas. Over half a century ago, a shoe store owner in Emporia named Al King promoted the idea of changing what had been Armistice Day – honoring veterans of the First World War – into a celebration of veterans of every conflict, and every era.

"What started in Emporia went national in 1954, when Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed a bill making the November 11 holiday the one we know today.

"As important as it is to publicly recognize the service of our troops returned from the battlefield, it is more important – indeed a sacred obligation – that we make sure they receive the care, benefits, and compensation they've so courageously earned. This is one of the preeminent challenges facing our nation. Aside from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have had no higher
leadership priority.

"Since reports of substandard recovery facilities emerged last year, the Department of Defense has launched major reforms and improvements in outpatient care. Each of the services provides a multi-facetted approach to care. The
Army, for example, gives each soldier a case manager, squad leader, and a primary care provider. Coordinators have been assigned to help guide troops and their families through what can be a bewildering system during a difficult period in their lives.

"The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are expanding a pilot program to streamline the Disability Evaluation System into a single process producing one disability rating. We must also continue to improve coordination and information-sharing between these two departments so that wounded warriors making the transition out of the
military health system are not burdened by excessive delay or duplicate processes.

"To draw attention to the service and sacrifice of these extraordinary Americans, to take stock of what has been achieved, and to reflect on how much more needs to be done, I have designated November as 'Warrior Care Month.' The Department of Defense has launched a one-stop website at, where service members and their families will be able to find out about the full range of resources available to them.

"On this Veterans Day, let us redouble efforts to see our men and women get the care and the recognition that are their due. And if there are veterans in your family, in your community – or even if you see them walking down the hall or down the street – take a moment to say 'thank you' for all they have done for us. They deserve no less."

Staying Power: Army's Wounded Care Program Transformed for Future, General Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 7, 2008 - Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, the
Army's assistant surgeon general for warrior care and transition, recently spoke with American Forces Press Service about the Army's transformed wounded warrior care program. What follows is a question-and-answer session from that interview.

Q. It has been a little more than a year since the first wounded warrior brigade was stood up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Tell me how you think the model is doing and, overall, how you think the Army is doing in taking care of wounded warriors.

A. It is a tremendous program. We have literally completely transformed our rehabilitative care ... as we transition the soldier from inpatient care to either going back to the
Army or civilian life.

To some degree we've never really fully had what I would call a rehabilitative capability in the Army on the scale of what we're doing now. Once we became engaged in the two wars now, when we started to look for those rehabilitative capabilities, they really didn't exist. I don't know that we have it exactly the way we want it yet, but I think we're at a point of irreversible momentum to where we will get these things really up, designed, functioning with the policies in place to make them a terrific system.

Q. So, do you think the triad of care and the warrior transition unit models are working for the Army?

A. Really when you look at what was going on at Walter Reed [before February 2007 when the Washington Post news articles exposed a breakdown in wounded warrior care there] it was really just a microcosm of the entire
Army and our systems. I don't want to point too sharp a stick at it ... but it was not a system that we needed to properly take care of soldiers.

We were hit pretty hard about the facilities. But that's really only a small part of it. We had really no
leadership structure. We were actually using an NCO that was in charge of those soldiers who was himself a cancer patient. We had no structure, no military discipline, no requirements for formation. We had soldiers that were not wearing uniforms, not getting hair cuts, growing beards, and really left to their own devices.

If you were a soldier trying to work the system and hang out there as long as you want, that was great. If you were a soldier who wanted to get better and get back to his unit, it was frustrating. It was difficult.

We didn't take good care of the families. We weren't watching out for the soldiers. We did not have the traditional
military structure and leadership that soldiers are accustomed to. We also really didn't know what was going on. We weren't really checking and measuring how we were doing.

And that has completely changed. Now, by contrast, we have the 35 warrior transition units. We did consider going back to the rehab center concept ... but the reason we didn't want to do that is because we felt that to properly rehabilitate a soldier, it's best to have him close to his home, his family, his comrades. We wanted a system that was more adaptable.

We stood up the
military unit with the familiar things like company commanders, and first sergeants and squad leaders and platoon sergeants and added to that some medical management capability with a nurse case manager and primary care physician.

All in all, I think we are off to a tremendous start to this program and we continue to adjust and revise.

Q. Do you think that that discipline helps them re-associate with the Army and focuses their intent on healing?

A. Absolutely. These are soldiers. And for a soldier, the things like the Uniform Code of Military
Justice, the standards, the customs and the courtesies all apply. That leadership has to take into account the conditions ... unique to that soldier. Of course they will use judgment when dealing with those soldiers. We want to have discipline. We don't want it to be overly harsh. We want it to be appropriate.

The discipline I think is key and it is a big part of their rehabilitation and healing. That same discipline is also going to be pushing them to follow the instructions of their providers, their therapists and making their appointments.

Q. You've had some difficulty with the staffing the transition units. I know there are some initiatives to get that up to 100 percent. How is that going?

A. Is important for us to have the cadre right and the ratios should be at 100 percent and that's what we're moving toward. But I think there are some key misperceptions. The first one is, yes we have over 12,000 soldiers in this program ... but it is not 12,000 catastrophically wounded soldiers from theater. About one-third were evacuated from theater ... the other 66 percent really have come from our units ... a soldier in a car accident, a soldier who has cancer, a soldier with a sports injury, a soldier injured in training. Seventy-five percent of those 12,000 are combat veterans. We have a moral obligation to take care of all of them and that's what we'll do.

But the important thing is the cadre that looks after those soldiers is more to manage their care. It's not that they're being denied medical care. It's not that they're not being taken care of or supervised. They are.

The methods we were using to staff those cadres ... were just not agile enough to keep up with the growth. We've changed the way we're doing that. We have mandated to stay up with these ratios based on the population. We have brought in our commanders at the major command level ... all around the world, all of our installation commanders ... and we really came to a common azimuth that we're all responsible for this and we're going to keep this straight.

The main thing I would say is that even when the cadre's strengths were below the ratios we had set, I do not believe that had a major impact on the care provided to those soldiers.

As every day passes, the warrior transition units and the services, the medical care, the discipline, all the things we provide will get better and stronger with time.

Q. What was the rationale behind bringing in all wounded, ill and injured soldiers into the program, because it would seem to create more of an issue with barracks and staffing?

A. I suppose we could consider a special program for only our wounded soldiers, but then when I have a soldier who has three combat tours and he's injured in a motorcycle accident, he's not eligible. Do we not have an obligation to take care of him?

It is really about the severity of the wound, the illness or the injury. How bad is the medical condition of that soldier? That's what gains entry into this system.

We're going to tighten our criteria a bit. We have a significant number of soldiers in our warrior transition units that have a long-term problem, but with rather routine rehabilitative needs. In the future, we will more than likely keep that soldier in his unit and use traditional
leadership to supervise him and the medical care provided to do that. We want to make our warrior transition units focus on those that need that intense managed care.

In the end, ...we didn't stand them up to ride focused, intense management of soldiers with fairly simple issues that don't require that. As the pendulum swings, we're going to bring it back but we're going to bring it back very carefully.

Q. How is your access to senior Army
leadership and what is the priority for wounded warrior care?

A. I would say our support from the senior leaders of the
Army is enormous. I easily have direct access to any of them should I need to bring up an issue. Typically it works the other way around. They typically call me and I go there quite often.

Q. Is the Army able to change its policies and procedures fast enough to accommodate the needs of wounded warriors?

A. I would say yes, but I would also say we have to be very careful. You want to be very wary of a knee-jerk reaction.

We are pretty agile, but we have to be very careful I think because the second- and third-order effects of making policy changes sometimes are not apparent. Our decision, for example, to bring a lot of our medical evaluation board soldiers into the WTUs had that beneficial effect for deploying units in that it removed them from their books and allowed them to get more personnel. And to some degree it brought these soldiers together where we could help expedite their board process .... The second-order effects were we had this explosion in our population and we had this great challenge of getting our cadre up to strength. And when we finally stepped back and looked at this population, we determined that ... this was designed to provide focused managed care and a lot of soldiers we brought in don't need that.

Q. Can you talk about streamlining the board process and where the Army is with its pilot program?

A. This is a process that's been around for probably 50 years. It's a very deliberate process that makes sure we do it right and that the best interests of the soldier are protected. So that process has got a lot of checks along the way to make sure we don't misstep.

We have looked hard at eliminating some of the duplicative paperwork. We're also going to automate this system. By January, we will be able to do this in an automated fashion which should help us considerably. The pilot brings the VA and the
Army together to do a single physical. We used to do two.

What we would really like to see is the Army not to be in the disability business. The Army's decision really ought to be about fitness to serve or not. You can either stay in the
Army or not, based upon your physical condition. The disability decision, we would rather have that be in the Veterans Affairs. Let them make the decision of the disability and work that.

For the soldier, he or she wants to make sure that they retain medical benefits for the family, to not have any degradation of pay ... and be as physically capable as they can. The MEB and our process really doesn't necessarily look after those interests. There will be some disappointed ... soldiers.

So until we can resolve that, we are left with this system which unfortunately puts us in a bit of an adversarial relationship with the solder.

Q. So are you saying that you would like to see that fall entirely to the VA? The soldier transitions to the VA, and the VA assigns the benefits and the compensation?

A. Right, and of course that's a sticky point because that gives the VA to some degree the keys to the kingdom to get into the ... Department of Defense's money. But ... it is the way the law is structured right now, so this is not a policy we can change. But it is one we often discuss with Congress and we say we would like this law changed.

But as long as we cooperate on the physical, it seems to me we can make some progress here, but within limits.

Q. The Army has begun leaning forward in allowing [seriously wounded] soldiers to stay on active duty if they choose. Why?

A. For any soldier who has been wounded in combat who wants to continue on active duty, we have yet to say 'no.' That's not a policy. I just know that to be a fact. Every one of those is done on a case-by-case basis.

We have a tremendous positive track record for great servants who have been grievously wounded in combat [and continued on active duty]. When we look at the history of the service that has been done by some of those who have made those kinds of sacrifices, I think keeping them in the Army has a lot of merit. They have a lot to offer.

I was sitting at lunch with a group of soldiers and one soldier told me how deeply appreciative he was of the transition assistance he was getting. He was being medically separated from the
Army, but in the time he was in the WTU, he was able to take college courses and he was able to get coordinated to attend college [after he separated]. And he really was very complimentary of how he had been treated and helped and counseled through that process.

Across the table, another soldier said, "You know I am returning to duty and I really didn't get much at all."

From his perspective, we were putting more effort to get soldiers out of the Army than we were to keep soldiers in the Army. Boy, that was like a smack right on the forehead.

This gave me new energy to work that. We want to place a retention NCO in each of our WTU battalions and build a retention program to encourage our soldiers to stay in the Army. In particular, we may have a soldier who is medically unqualified for his current specialty, but we may be able to find another way to use his or her talents in another specialty.

We went to the AW2 symposium ... I spoke to those soldiers there and asked how many would like to be a cadre member. And a number of them were very interested in doing that. So I think we have a resource right there alone just for our own warrior transition units where these soldiers can serve. They can teach in schools. In many cases, they do continue to serve in their MOS and deploy to combat.

Q. What feedback are you getting from the troops and the families?

A. The feedback I get from families ... is really spectacular. I think especially for those families when they first arrive ... There's a lot of reticence and uneasiness about the condition of their loved one. But they are embraced immediately. So they are put at ease very quickly and taken great care of. For many of them, their challenges lie ahead, but at least we get them through that very difficult period where there's a lot of unfamiliarity with the
military and the situation they're stepping into. We're doing a great job there.

From the soldiers, it's not all milk and honey. Soldiers are going to tell you the things they like and don't like. For many of them, they are greatly appreciative of this concept. Many of them are very, very complimentary of their cadre. Others are perhaps less so. But you will find that anywhere in the Army. But, by and large, they recognize the investment, the attention and the focus of the Army.

We also ask them about their level of care. Generally speaking, from the surveys we do, we range just under 80 percent satisfaction. Our goal is to get everybody over 80 percent and we have made incremental progress towards that.

Q. You talk about building an enduring program. Can you define that and tell me why you are designing the program this way?

A. We need an enduring program for the Army that is adaptable, expandable, collapsible and responsive to the needs of the soldiers.

We have a program that is fairly adaptable. And we've proven we can expand it, though it was uneven for sure. I think we're in a much better position now to handle future growth. We really haven't done much to figure out how to collapse this down. When Iraq and Afghanistan go away, we should return to the steady state of illnesses and injuries that soldiers typically get ....

Right now we have 35 warrior transition units and nine communities based healthcare organizations. We are fairly confident that about 26 of those 35 are what I would call permanent warrior transition units. The other nine we're not so sure about.

I want to look harder at the community based health care organizations approach. That's one that is very easily expandable provided those civilian capabilities are there.
We've asked for funding to build 21 warrior transition complexes at various posts, camps and stations in the United States. Right now, the office of the Secretary of Defense supports us for about half of those. Ultimately, Congress will decide how they would fund that.

Nothing says it's enduring like a complex that's built to be dedicated for this mission. And the first one will be started at the end of this fiscal year at Fort Riley, Kan., where we will build the barracks, the administrative headquarters and the soldier and family assistance center in close proximity to the hospital. We will have an excellent facility that takes care of wounded, ill and injured soldiers at that installation. We will get another major start on at least another eight in fiscal year 2009.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

A. I'm just very concerned that America is getting a false impression. They think we have hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers. They think we have 12,000 amputees or worse in our warrior transition units. There are only 1,500 Purple Heart recipients. The number of amputees for the Army is less than 800.

Yeah, we have challenges out there. But the progress we've made is just spectacular. And the care we're providing the soldiers, the organization, the cadre, is all superb.

I think there's basically a misunderstanding of
Army culture. We open ourselves up. We candidly ask for criticism. We work to improve it because that's what we want to do. No one seems to want to believe that we could love soldiers as much as we do. We are soldiers. This is a spectacular program and it's going to get better and better all the time.

(Editor's note: This is the third article an AFPS special report, Staying Power: Seriously Wounded Warriors Return to the Fight).