Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

‘Warrior transition units’ aren’t working

Here’s a comment posted yesterday by "IRR" that you shouldn’t miss. [T]he WTU concept was an ill-conceived, knee jerk response to Walter Reed. Like many hasty decisions made by GEN Peter Schoomaker, the second and third order consequences were never considered (see: the unwarranted firing of MG George Weightman). The WTU concept is deeply flawed ...

U.S. Army
U.S. Army
U.S. Army

Here's a comment posted yesterday by "IRR" that you shouldn't miss.

[T]he WTU concept was an ill-conceived, knee jerk response to Walter Reed. Like many hasty decisions made by GEN Peter Schoomaker, the second and third order consequences were never considered (see: the unwarranted firing of MG George Weightman).

The WTU concept is deeply flawed because it inserts a "shadow" combat arms chain of command into military medical centers. The mission of these medical centers is to heal and/or rehabilitate wounded soldiers. There is no "combat" mission and the injection of underutilized, ranger-tabbed officers and NCOs into a clinical environment degrades patient care and disrupts the continuity of care. Was Walter Reed woefully undermanned from 2003-07? Yes. Walter Reed was simultaneously subjected to an A-76 review process and a dramatic military-civilian conversion. There weren't enough "green suit" people to run the facility properly and provide adequate oversight to medical hold patients. This said, the tragedy at Walter Reed did not justify stripping the Army Medical Department of command and control of its patients. Furthermore, some WTUs fall under separate courts-martial convening authorities than the medical center they are housed at. See the case of 1LT Elizabeth Whiteside as an example of how dysfunctional this arrangement can be. When WTU cadre dismiss the Chief of Psychiatry's diagnosis as "psychobabble", you have a problem.

Here’s a comment posted yesterday by "IRR" that you shouldn’t miss.

[T]he WTU concept was an ill-conceived, knee jerk response to Walter Reed. Like many hasty decisions made by GEN Peter Schoomaker, the second and third order consequences were never considered (see: the unwarranted firing of MG George Weightman).

The WTU concept is deeply flawed because it inserts a "shadow" combat arms chain of command into military medical centers. The mission of these medical centers is to heal and/or rehabilitate wounded soldiers. There is no "combat" mission and the injection of underutilized, ranger-tabbed officers and NCOs into a clinical environment degrades patient care and disrupts the continuity of care. Was Walter Reed woefully undermanned from 2003-07? Yes. Walter Reed was simultaneously subjected to an A-76 review process and a dramatic military-civilian conversion. There weren’t enough "green suit" people to run the facility properly and provide adequate oversight to medical hold patients. This said, the tragedy at Walter Reed did not justify stripping the Army Medical Department of command and control of its patients. Furthermore, some WTUs fall under separate courts-martial convening authorities than the medical center they are housed at. See the case of 1LT Elizabeth Whiteside as an example of how dysfunctional this arrangement can be. When WTU cadre dismiss the Chief of Psychiatry’s diagnosis as "psychobabble", you have a problem.

One of the driving rationales for the WTUs was the erroneous and offensive notion that the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) was insufficiently empathetic to its wounded patients. This is poppycock and the AMEDD faithfully performed this role during all of our previous wars. I am quite interested in learning how an SFC who served in combat with the Infantry or a CPT who led a Medical Platoon in a Cavalry Squadron, are insufficiently empathetic to wounded combat arms personnel. Color me skeptical.

WTUs are an egregious misallocation of desperately needed combat arms NCOs and officers. As we learn that TRADOC is less than 40% filled on its authorized CPT authorizations, it’s inconceivable that we would divert these critical officers to major medical centers when they have no medical training or experience.

From my experience at Ft. Lewis and anecdotal reports, the WTU cadre seem to look for things to do and impede patient care. This distracts truly wounded soldiers from their primary mission — to heal!

It’s important to also recognize that in some cases bona fide criminals were assigned to WTUs. MAJ James Momon who was accused of accepting huge bribes as a contracting officer in Iraq was assigned to the WTU at Ft. Belvoir after his arrest.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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