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Report: Army ordering injured soldiers to Iraq
Mike Sheehan
Published: Monday March 12, 2007
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The U.S. Army is ordering soldiers at Fort Benning classified as "medically unfit to fight" to war in Iraq, Salon reports, asking aloud if it is an "isolated incident or a trend."

"As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq," writes Mark Benjamin for Salon, "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."

Benjamin cites recent cases of troops at Fort Benning whose medical profiles were "downgraded ... without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq."

In fact, writes Benjamin, some of the affected soldiers he interviewed "are already gone," with others set to fly to Iraq within a week. 3rd Infantry Division officials, according to Benjamin, deny the claims.

One veterans activist expressed his concerns about the moves involving medically unfit troops and thinks that "the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal," writes Benjamin.

"It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield," Benjamin quotes the activist.

Excerpts from the Salon article, available in full here after viewing an advertisement, follow...

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Eight soldiers who were at the Feb. 15 meeting say they were summoned to the troop medical clinic at 6:30 in the morning and lined up to meet with division surgeon Lt. Col. George Appenzeller, who had arrived from Fort Stewart, Ga., and Capt. Aaron K. Starbuck, brigade surgeon at Fort Benning. The soldiers described having a cursory discussion of their profiles, with no physical exam or extensive review of medical files. They say Appenzeller and Starbuck seemed focused on downplaying their physical problems. "This guy was changing people's profiles left and right," said a captain who injured his back during his last tour in Iraq and was ordered to Iraq after the Feb. 15 review.

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In direct contradiction to the account given by the soldiers, Appenzeller said physical examinations were conducted and that he had a robust medical team there working with him, which is how they managed to complete 75 reviews in one day. Appenzeller denied that the plan was to find more warm bodies for the surge into Baghdad, as did Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., the brigade commander. Grigsby said he is under "no pressure" to find soldiers, regardless of health, to make his unit look fit. The health and welfare of his soldiers are a top priority, said Grigsby, because [the soldiers] are "our most important resource, perhaps the most important resource we have in this country."

Grigsby said he does not know how many injured soldiers are in his ranks. But he insisted that it is not unusual to deploy troops with physical limitations so long as he can place them in safe jobs when they get there. "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," Grigsby said.

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.

And while Grigsby, the brigade commander, says he is under no pressure to find troops, it is hard to imagine there is not some desperation behind the decision to deploy some of the sick soldiers.

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