Army Vice Chief Announces Walter Reed Leadership Changes
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2007 The Army vice chief of staff yesterday announced leadership changes to the medical hold units at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which he called an important first step in correcting administrative and bureaucratic challenges wounded soldiers face during recovery.
Army Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker will serve as the deputy commanding general of Walter Reed, under newly appointed commander Army Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Army Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff, announced at a news conference at the medical center.
Cody also announced the appointment of Army Col. Terrence J. McKenrick to lead the newly formed Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey S. Hartless as the brigade’s top enlisted man.
Tucker, a combat-arms officer who most recently was deputy commander of the U.S. Army Armor Center and Fort Knox, Ky., goes to fill a new position at Walter Reed, created to deal with the sometimes confusing administrative process wounded soldiers face, Cody said.
“He’s going to be the guy that we look to to be the soldiers’ and families’ advocate as they go through inpatient and outpatient, but also he’s going to be the ‘bureaucratic buster’ … and take on this bureaucracy that at times frustrates our soldiers,” Cody said of Tucker.
McKenrick and Hartless also come from combat-arms backgrounds, and Hartless spent time recovering at Walter Reed after being injured in Afghanistan. Cody said that combat-arms soldiers were chosen to fill these key leadership positions because the challenges facing soldiers in outpatient care have more to do with administrative issues rather than medical issues, and combat-arms leaders are in the business of taking care of soldiers.
“There is the medical piece to it, but it’s more about first sergeant duties, platoon sergeant duties, and we have people that know how to do that,” Cody said. “We have depth in our Army right now to be able to put combat-arms noncommissioned officers and officers to do that duty, to free up our medical service corps professionals … to take care of the medical side of this.”
These leadership changes are the first step in fixing the problems in Walter Reed’s outpatient care and medical holdover units, which were brought to light through a series of Washington Post articles in February, Cody said.
The medical holdover units did not have the right ratio of leaders to soldiers or the right type of leaders, he said. McKenrick and Hartless, who are already on board, will be revamping the organization and ensuring soldiers’ health, welfare, morale and administrative issues are taken care of.
“(Wounded soldiers) need to have good, caring leadership to help them make these transitions either back to their units or back to their civilian jobs or back to being regular citizens of this great Army and this great nation,” Cody said.
To help address problems at Walter Reed, the Army also has set up a one-stop family and soldier assistance center in the hospital and a toll-free hotline for soldiers to report problems, Cody said. The Army also has increased the number of caseworkers, personnel specialists and financial specialists at the hospital, he said.
In addition, Cody said he has deployed a team from Army Medical Command to medical facilities across the country to evaluate conditions, and he is holding a video teleconference today with Army hospital commanders worldwide to talk about eliminating problems for wounded soldiers.
“There is no higher priority in our United States Army, and in our nation for that matter, than the well-being of our soldiers, whether that well-being is down range in combat, back at home camps and stations preparing to go to combat, and certainly, those soldiers that have borne the burden of combat and have come back to our medical system,” he said.
The most daunting task facing Army leaders is fixing the system so that wounded soldiers don’t have a battle when going through the process of establishing their duty status and transitioning out of the medical treatment facilities, Cody said. He pledged that he and other leaders are working hard to fix that system and to restore trust in a medical system that has lost credibility with its most important customers, the servicemembers.
“This national dialogue we’re having right now, I think, is very helpful,” he said. “It’s a national dialogue as to what this country owes to these servicemen and women who have raised their right hand during war and enlisted, or raised their right hand again during war and re-enlisted, and said, ‘America, in your time of need, I will go forward and defend you.’
“What does this country owe them when they do get wounded? Certainly not a bureaucratic system that makes them have to argue or stay longer so they get the right benefits and the right financial security for the sacrifice that they have given.”