The U.S. Army's proud boast is that it never leaves an injured comrade behind on the field. But it looks as if it's been leaving many of its comrades in the Oregon National Guard behind when they need medical care. Members of the Oregon Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team have complained to Oregon's congressional delegation about the shabby treatment they were given at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA, before and after deployment to Iraq.
In a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader said members of the Guard told them their care at the hospital was rushed in order to get them out fast and make room for soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division, due to return soon from Iraq.
Some Guard troops said they had been denied second medical opinions, which they were entitled to by law, and had been threatened with disciplinary action if they asked questions or complained. Some said they lost pay when they were forced to leave active duty so they could get medical care from Veterans Affairs rather than at Madigan.
One particular sore point was an insulting PowerPoint presentation that referred to Guard troops as "weekend warriors" and indicated there was what Wyden called a "dual-track process" for treating members of the Guard and regular Army troops.
In a reply to the letter, Gen. Eric Schoomaker, chief of the Army's Medical Command, apologized for the "insensitive and offensive depiction of Reserve Component Soldiers" in the PowerPoint slide. That wasn't enough for Wyden and Schrader who demanded an investigation into the treatment of Guard soldiers at Madigan.
They're getting one. High-ranking Army officials were sent to Lewis-McChord on Tuesday to listen to the stories of Oregon Guard troops. That, we hope, will be the first step in an unflinching, no-holds-barred effort to dig up the truth.
And not just the truth at Madigan - the situation there may be part of a much bigger problem. "We can't just chalk this up as the actions of one rogue office; rather, my concern is that this is a symptom of a culture that views National Guard and reservists as second-class soldiers," Wyden said in his letter to McHugh.
If even a third of the Guardsmen's allegations are true, it's enough to bring disgrace on the Army and the United States. Those who serve in the National Guard today are not mere "weekend warriors." They fight on the same battlefields, suffer the same wounds, run the same risk of death and disablement as their counterparts in the regular Army. They are entitled to the same respect and the same quality of treatment.
On Monday Americans will observe Memorial Day, a time to remember and honor those who have been killed while serving in the armed forces. It's also an appropriate time to salute the living who have served - and deliver THE BOOT to those who don't give them the respect and care they have earned.