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Soldier Mom
How Can the Army Fail at Leadership?
Examing the Deeper Meaning Behind Walter Reed Scandal
By TRACEY CALDWELL 03/14/2007 12:35 PM ET
Friends and neighbors keep asking me how I feel about Walter Reed. Like most Americans, I am outraged, but as I said last week, I was not surprised that poor physical conditions might exist in the buildings.

I am not surprised that wounded soldiers encountered bureaucracy. I not surprised that the military tried to keep the problems hidden. If anything has surprised me, it is how many people have jumped to apologize. I lost count how many have apologized by now, saying they should have known. They are right. They should have known. I don’t know how many stopped by Walter Reed for photo-ops and never looked any further. Did they not look because there was nothing to be gained politically by looking? Did they not look because they did not want to know? Whatever the reason, they failed because they did not look.

But what really made my blood pressure rise was that some did know. Some had looked. These were not members of the military, trying to protect the reputation of the institution they belong to. No, these were our elected representatives.

I can understand people within military keeping quiet. I don’t think it was right, but I do understand it. They did not want to embarrass the military--an organization they are heavily invested in. But members of Congress are not elected to protect the military from embarrassment; they are elected to represent us in Washington. Unless they believe their constituents back home would have wanted them to leave those soldiers in unfit conditions, they had a duty to speak up, and keep speaking up until the problem was resolved.

They failed not only our wounded soldiers; they failed their constituents at home. They left it up to the Washington Post to embarrass the military into taking care of its wounded soldiers. We have all had the opportunity to see how quickly they can jump to fix a problem once they have been embarrassed. Gone is the mold, mice, and roaches. Gone are many of the leaders who led us to this place. They are attacking the bureaucracy as they would a battle on the battlefield; giving it all they have.

The military has said repeatedly that this is not a resource issue; it is a failure of leadership. Obviously, the fact that our wounded soldiers were suffering under the conditions they were indicates a failure of leadership. But I find it difficult to believe this is only a failure of leadership.

There is no institution better than the military for developing leadership. It is a system that rewards leadership. I have seen it take young men and turn them into leaders of the highest quality. So how did we end up with leaders responsible for the well-being of our wounded soldiers failing so drastically at their mission?

If this is a failure of leadership, then the Pentagon doesn’t just have a problem with the bricks and mortar of decrepit buildings, or the bureaucracy that soldiers have to navigate to get what they need. The US military may need to examine how it allowed men who failed so greatly at leadership to rise to such senior positions. Why didn’t they see they lacked the leadership skills to get the job done? Why did it take the Washington Post to expose the failures of leadership? Will we have to wait for the Washington Post to show us where else our military is lacking in leadership skills?

I want to know that those leading my son have the leadership skills to succeed at their mission and keep my son safe. This is time of war; we cannot afford a failure of leadership in our civilian or military leaders.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at


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