Injured troops prefer combat to recovery at Bragg
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- Soldiers in a recovery unit for wounded troops at Fort Bragg told the Secretary of the Army that they feel forgotten by the military and that combat duty would be better than the treatment they get now, according to a memo obtained by the Associated Press.
The memo summarized the comments of soldiers who attended a closed-door meeting last week with Army Secretary Pete Geren. It was held after the service said it would look into complaints of overzealous discipline reported by The Associated Press.
Some of the soldiers told Geren they have "feelings of worthlessness and abandonment," the memo states. They told Geren that low morale and suicides in the base's Warrior Transition battalion are "pushed by (a) negative command climate" that is enforced by the unit's squad leaders. "If I had been in the (unit) after I was wounded the first time, I would not have fought so hard to stay in," one soldier told Geren, according to the memo. "It is very demoralizing and a very different experience from my previous recuperation."
The Army set up its 35 Warrior Transition units two years ago to help soldiers navigate the medical system and monitor their progress and treatment following the scandal over shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
But a recent Associated Press investigation found that discipline rates vary widely across the system. The comments to Geren mirror those of a dozen current and former soldiers interviewed by the AP about their time in Fort Bragg's unit. They accused the unit's officers of being indifferent to their medical needs and punishing them for actions that stem from their injuries.
"Combat was preferable to the (unit) and the platoon level chain of command ... were poorly trained and not earning their special pay to pay close attention to each (soldier's) case and their progress to transition," the memo states.
The soldiers at the meeting told Geren that troops with post-traumatic stress disorder are made fun of, those given electronic memory aides are held to a higher standard, and the unit has become a dumping ground for soldiers at Fort Bragg suffering from drug abuse problems.
Other complaints included issues regarding pay, lost paperwork and the lack of opportunity for promotion.
"We always are working to improve the support of our wounded, ill and injured soldiers and their families and there is no substitute for hearing directly from those we serve," Geren said in a statement provided to the AP. "The soldiers in the (unit) raised a variety of issues and made recommendations on how we could improve the Bragg (unit)."
None of the soldiers that met with Geren were identified by name, but the memo said all had been assigned to the Warrior Transition system for at least 10 months.
The memo was obtained from a person at Fort Bragg who requested anonymity because the unit's discipline record is being reviewed. Officials at Fort Bragg confirmed the memo was written and sent to the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Jay Thornton.
"The notes received from the Warriors in Transition were written after the fact and based on memory and are not intended to serve as an official transcript," said Shannon Lynch, a spokeswoman at Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center. "They are merely a collection of comments from various perspectives."
Geren said he discussed the meeting with Thornton and Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, the commander in charge of the Army's more than 9,000 wounded soldiers, and is awaiting their report. Cheek has asked the Army Surgeon General to look at discipline taken against soldiers in the unit to ensure each case was fair.
At the end of his meeting with the soldiers, Geren asked three "survey" questions on a scale of one to three, with three being the best. The majority of soldiers present gave the unit's chain of command and platoon leadership a 2 or 1 and rated morale "overwhelmingly low." Only educational opportunities got a three rating.