A few weeks ago, Benjamin wrote a piece exposing how a group of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade-3rd Infantry at Ft. Benning, GA had their medical statuses summarily downgraded in February so they could be re-deployed to Iraq.
This week, Benjamin examines how some of those soldiers, plus many others, were recently sent to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA for "training," despite being physically unable to perform most usual exercises.
The injured soldiers were not forced to train, but were simply housed in tents on site--their physical presence apparently being good enough to count them among the numbers cited as "trained" for the surge.
A military official knowledgeable about the training in California in January and the medical processing of the injured soldiers at Fort Benning in February told Salon that commanders were taking desperate actions to meet an accelerated deployment schedule dictated by President Bush's so-called surge plan for securing Baghdad. "None of this would have happened if we had just slowed down a little bit," the military official said. "A lot of people were under a lot of pressure at that time."
Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, one of the main soldiers profiled in the article, was sent to Ft. Irwin two days after he had a cast removed from his leg following ankle surgery. Though he was scheduled to start physical therapy, Hernandez was instead sent to the National Training Center, where no PT services were available. Hernandez re-injured his ankle while at Ft. Irwin, requiring a new cast, and setting his recovery back months.
Hernandez is one of a dozen soldiers who stayed for weeks in those tents who were interviewed for this report, some of whose medical records were also reviewed by Salon. All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition. In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army.