Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Walk It Off, Soldier 

Courtesy of the very fine Mahablog: If today's reports that the Pentagon plans to deploy an additional 10,000 troops to Iraq for the January elections have you worried about the possibility of a manpower shortage, you can relax. With casualties hitting record highs in November, the Pentagon has finally figured out that replacing all those one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed troops is costly and inefficient -- especially when you can recycle them instead:
After an anti-tank mine destroyed his foot and part of his leg in Iraq, Capt. David Rozelle, 31, considered his future. In another era, the commander of a cavalry troop would have been heralded for his bravery and likely issued a medical retirement.

But Rozelle experienced a different message while hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Nearly every officer who visited his room cheered on a comeback. The Texas native spent the next nine months swimming, weight lifting, mountain biking and getting used to running with an artificial leg. He passed the necessary physical fitness tests given by the Army medical board and was declared fit for duty. Next year, Rozelle is slated to deploy to Iraq as the commander of a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment headquarters troop.

"I see so many young men that say, 'Hell, yeah, I want to continue to serve and fight,' " Rozelle said.

In a shift in military culture, the U.S. armed forces have recently announced new efforts to keep seriously wounded or disabled soldiers on active duty. Although there is no clear written policy, the sentiment is being echoed down from the White House.

"When we're talking about forced discharge, we're talking about another age and another" military, President Bush told wounded soldiers at Walter Reed last year. "This is a new age, and this is a new [military]. Today, if wounded service members want to remain in uniform and can do the job, the military tries to help them stay."

But one observer says the change is also practical. In an era of constant deployment, the Pentagon needs a more flexible and diversified workforce, said Laura Miller, a military sociologist with the Rand Corp.

"Part of this is a response to the stress on the all-volunteer forces due to the war on terror," Miller said. "And part of it is adapting to future warfare: smaller expeditionary forces that can respond to a variety of missions, including peacekeeping and humanitarian. Why throw away someone with years of training and expertise, only to re-train someone new?"

In April, the Army formed the Disabled Soldier Support System, or DS3, a resource network available to soldiers who are 30 percent or more disabled -- paralysis or the loss of a limb or an eye. The DS3 helps soldiers weigh their options regarding retirement or trying to stay on active duty. The Army estimates that almost 900 of those injured in Iraq are eligible for the program.

Amputations account for 2.4 percent of all wounded in action in the Iraq war -- twice the rate in World War I and World War II, said Chuck Scoville, the amputee program manager of Walter Reed. Sophisticated body armor and medical techniques in the battlefield have preserved lives but not necessarily limbs. Available figures through Aug. 31 show that Army hospitals have treated 138 amputees from Iraq. That number includes those who have lost hands, feet, arms or legs, and does not include the loss of fingers or toes.
Also from the Mahablog, a link to the BBC's daily Iraq Log, "a range of accounts here from people inside Iraq about how they, their families and friends live day to day and what the bigger events in the headlines mean to them."

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