Mullen Visits Fort Carson Warrior Transition Unit
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT CARSON, Colo., March 11, 2008 Every chance he gets, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen stops to visit wounded warriors, and yesterday was no exception.
“These are young men and women serving their country,” he said during an interview. “Those wounded in the war have sacrificed an extraordinary amount. Their lives have changed forever. Their families’ lives have changed forever. They deserve the best this country can give them.”
How the country treats those wounded in its service is a top priority to the chairman. He has visited the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; the Warrior Transition Unit at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and wounded warriors at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington.
At each place, he wants to ensure everything that can be done for the young men and women is being done.
Mullen said the Defense Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the American people must band together to provide a world-class care system for these men and women that “has to be seamless to be as supportive as we can.”
After speaking privately with wounded soldiers here, Mullen said they were satisfied with the Warrior Transition Unit chain of command and how they are being led. “I was pleased to hear that, because I worry about them being detached from their main units because they are wounded, and the camaraderie, esprit, connection they have with their battle buddies” is broken, the chairman said.
But wounded warriors here still encounter shortcomings. The unit doesn’t have enough doctors to get the 413 wounded soldiers here “through the system” quickly, Mullen said. “It’s too slow; it’s taking them way too long,” he said. “We’ve got to figure a way to streamline that process. There is great frustration on their part. They told me that their spouses were much more stressed out than they even were, and that gets to the family piece of this.”
Mullen said he visits such units to get a feel for what is going on. “In a small group like that, they’ll open up,” he said. “They are all trying to answer the question, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ They want to be everything they can be, and we owe them every opportunity to answer that question as rapidly as possible, get them into the best position they can be.”
Warrior transition units have representatives from Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, state veteran affairs offices, and nongovernmental organizations. The commander of the unit here, which has been in operation only six months, said the unit’s job is to speed the process and prepare wounded young men and women for the future. “Our job is to get their toolbox as full as possible,” said Army Col. Kelly A. Wolgast, the commander of Evans Army Community Hospital here.
This fits in with Mullen’s insistence that the services start stressing what wounded warriors are able to do, rather than stressing what they can’t do. While disability payments are important, these young men and women represent the best of America, and they still have much to contribute, he said.
He said he was encouraged upon hearing how a group of the wounded warriors from Fort Carson had recently returned from a career fair in Florida. A veterans’ group sponsored the trip.
“That kind of support is invaluable because that starts to get at their key question: What can I do?” the admiral said.