The Walter Reed Scandal….Just Scratching the Surface
By Frank Antenori
March 3, 2007
Many of you are aware of the developing scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. What you don’t know is that Walter Reed is a mere symptom of a greater problem. That problem is a cancer that has permeated the ranks of the U.S. Military since the end of the Viet Nam War, over 30 years ago.
The good news is that the problem has been recognized and a cure seems to be on the way. The new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on the job just a few weeks, has come to realize that decisive action is needed. He has sent a strong and much needed message through the senior ranks of the military with his firing of Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, and the commander of Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman.
"The problems at Walter Reed appear to be problems of leadership." Gates said Friday after announcing the resignation of Harvey. Gates is as they say in my old business: Dead on balls accurate.
Gates assigned Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army Surgeon General, to take over Walter Reed until the new commander, Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker is able to take over.
As soon as Schoomaker’s foot is in the door at Walter Reed, Gates needs to finish the job by immediately firing Lt. Gen. Kiley as the Army Surgeon General. You see, Kiley was the commander of Walter Reed from 2002-2004. What happened at Walter Reed didn’t happen over night. It was years of neglect by several previous commanders that failed to take corrective action and are just as guilty. There is no reason Kiley should dodge Gates’ bullet and go on to a lucrative civilian job while Weightmen will be lucky if he can get a job at Walgreen’s.
Maj. Gen. Schoomaker needs to take decisive action as well upon assuming command of Walter Reed by immediately relieving every non-commissioned officer above the rank of Staff Sergeant. A sergeant’s job above all else is to look out for the health and welfare of his troops. The Sergeant Major of Walter Reed, on down to every Platoon Sergeant should also be fired for true accountability to occur.
Now on to my initial point. The reason this goes on in the military, as everyone may or may not know, is because of the existence of a system that rewards those that tow the line and keep quiet while punishing those that rock to boat and raise issues of concern. You see, raising issues of concern has the tendency to embarrass senior leaders and anyone doing so is quickly squashed or relegated to career limbo until they retire.
It has created a pseudo Bushido Code in the military and it is a cancer that hurts our war effort, puts our young soldiers at risk, and harbors an atmosphere of “ass-kissing” that is destroying the true warrior culture that once made our military great.
In the real Bushido, or “Warrior Code”, Samurai swore unwavering loyalty to the Emperor and demanded unrestricted loyalty from their subjects. In return, the Samurai received rewards from the Emperor and in turn, they provided protection for their subjects.
However, unlike feudal Japan, our military has failed to follow the rest of the “Warrior Code” by maintaining the warrior ethos of fighting for what is right, even if it means dying for it. Instead it has become a system where competent, seasoned leaders are forced out and less than competent, but “compliant” leaders are promoted. It is a cancer that permeates the Army so bad that there are now many general officers that have never seen combat; generals that have gotten where they are by being risk averse while at the same time protecting the behinds of their superiors; generals that have focused solely on looking out for themselves and their own military careers, even at the expense of their own troops, as was the case at Walter Reed.
Meanwhile, the best leaders, the ones tempered by combat and unafraid, the ones that stand up and point out the wrongs, who dare to raise questions, who look out for their troops and truly know what needs to be done to fight and win this war, the true warriors that have sworn an oath to be loyal to the Constitution and not some other general, are tossed aside by the so called “strategic thinkers” and political animals of the senior officer corps.
Secretary Gates had better look long and hard at every general officer with two or more stars on his collar and do a rapid assessment of their experience as well as their competency. He must ask if they got to their current position by riding someone’s coattails, or by truly being qualified for the job. In the coming years, these men, with little to no actual combat experience will be advising Mr. Gates and the President. Among them are the ones that totally dropped the ball in Iraq and were not held accountable; to the contrary, they were promoted in keeping with the pseudo Bushido Code.
My partisan loyalty ends where my loyalty to my brothers in arms and my fellow veterans starts. My concern for the safety, health and welfare of our young men and women trumps everything else. I don’t care who it is that fixes this, the Administration or Congress. I don’t even care which political party takes action, but something needs to be done, and done soon, or far worse things than Walter Reed will occur.
We’ve seen other hints of things to come: the lowering of training standards and the softening of recruit basic training to keep graduation numbers high and officer performance evaluations fluffy; the lowering of the quality and qualifications of recruits for the sake of keeping enlistment numbers high; the crazy and overbearing Rules of Engagement (ROE) placed on our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan solely to protect the political behinds of senior leaders. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
So I call on the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Congress to act. For the sake of our troops I ask you to take decisive action to cut out this cancer; to revive the true Warrior Ethos of our military by getting rid of these substandard leaders. The American people are watching and will take notice of those who will look out for their sons and daughters. You had better not let them down.
Frank Antenori is a retired Special Forces Soldier that saw combat in Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. He is also the author of “Roughneck Nine-One: The extraordinary story of a Special Forces A-Team at war.”