3/12/2007

Marketing and the Military: GOP Style

By now, you have heard about the scandal at Walter Reed Medical Center and the deplorable conditions wounded soldiers had to endure in the now infamous Building 18.

Looks like another head rolled last weekend when Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley announced his retirement. (I'm sure he was not-so kindly asked to do so.)

As a child of a former military family, this story has particular salience to me. When I was growing up in Germany, my friends, classmates, and I would commonly talk about how some of the military barracks and housing areas seemed substandard and were in need of renovations. We talked about things how often didn't get done until you had the force of the base commander or some top officer with you. Is the logistics office giving you a hard time? Call Major Jones! Got rude people giving you the run-around in the billetin office? Give Colonel Smoot a ring! You need some debris removed from the children's playground? Let Commander Smedley handle it!

In each of these instances, usually only relatively minor issues or inconveniences were involved. And for all the crappy barracks and military housing quarters we saw, we saw many more quarters being renovated. So it always looked like things were changing. Yes, things were changing slowly, but things were still changing.

However, this hospital scandal is simply unbelievable. I grew up in Vogelweh and Ramstein, home to the largest concentration of Americans outside of the United States. We were close to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which is probably the most important US military hospital on foreign soil. When soldiers are wounded in Iraq, Kosovo, or Afghanistan, they are immediately transferred to LRMC for emergency treatment. That hospital was one of the crown jewels of military community I was a part of, so I just can't see how the military let one of its own hospitals, of all places, fall into such disrepair.

What does this have to do with the GOP? Because it ties into the perception of the Republican Party being the party that "supports our troops." The Republican Party is the party that protects the military and doesn't believe in shortchanging it like those "treasonous, spineless" Democrats.

But what does the GOP have to do with the Walter Reed scandal? Well, according to Congressional Quarterly, it appears they had a lot to do with it, at least in terms of not doing anything to fix it when they had the power to do so:

Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them.

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital's problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Riiiiight. I suppose it is better for the wounded soldiers to deal with mold, cockroaches, and a lack of treatment instead. We wouldn't want people laughing at the American military, now would we?)

Again, The 7-10 is not intended to be a partisan blog. And I am not anti-Repblican. But this is yet another example of why it is difficult for me to take Republicans seriously when they start beating others over the head with the military and patriotism clubs. Simply put, they are more concerned with perception than reality.

How can you accuse others of "not supporting the troops" when you're not willing to stand up for them when they limp off the battlefield and need emergency treatment? How can you accuse others of "cutting and running" when that's exactly what you're doing by slashing veterans' benefits? How can you accuse the media of "hating the troops" when the media is the entity that gave these soldiers' concerns a voice? Do these people think the American military looks stronger now because of the scandal and the lack of congressional oversight than they did when the scandal was still unknown and the troops were suffering silently?

Rep. Young continued:
"We did not go public with these concerns, because we did not want to undermine the confidence of the patients and their families and give the Army a black eye while fighting a war."

These Republicans seem to think that as long as we're fighting wars, we're not allowed to have any dissent or talk about anything negative about how the war is being prosecuted. If it's not about "victory," it's not worth tallking about. When asked what we are fighting for, these same Republicans say we're fighting for "freedom" and "democracy." How ironic. Anytime someone has a criticism or a concern, that person is booed off the stage and derided as "an America hater" or an "appeaser" or a "terrorist sympathizer."

When will the nation catch on to this nonsense? Rhetoric means absolutely nothing if you don't have the deeds (and the funding and the accountability) to back it up. Republicans are much better than Democrats at projecting strength, even if this projection consists more of style than substance.

Actually, it's not all Republicans that I'm criticizing here. However, President Bush and those of the his ilk were able to thrive by invoking fear and undermining real military sacrifices and it worked perfectly in 2000 (against Arizona Senator John McCain, a former POW), 2002 (against Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee) and 2004 (against Massachussetts Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran).

It seems that people across the nation are waking up from their collective slumber now though. It is my hope that people become more active in the political process by simply staying up to date on the news and by following up on the promises these politicians make. When a politician says he is supporting the troops, don't just take him at his word. Ask him how he is doing that and hold him accountable!

At least the "troop-hating" Democrats are conducting meaningful oversight regarding this scandal now. And the nation is appreciative. What Republicans need to understand is that anybody can be a cheerleader. We don't elect politicians to make us feel good. We elect politicians to lead. Showing your support by putting a yellow ribbon on your car and planting a flag on your front lawn is a lot different from actually standing up for the troops when their voices can't be heard.

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1 comment(s):

Steven Mueller said...

It's sad to say, but this problem goes beyond Walter Reed. This is part of the culture of the Army and to a lesser extend DoD as a whole.

It is not a big secret that nationwide, VA hospitals are swamped with cases dealing with post-tramatic stress, patients with very real physical rehabilitaion needs. Before the early 90's every AF base, Army post, and Naval Station had full hospital services. Since the ealy 90's and into the full drawdown days, the medical career fields of the military have also dwindled.

I can recall a time, as a dependant, you would see a military doctor for your needs and the sponsor would not pay one dime.
These days the sponsor pays a co-pay much like civilian counterparts.

The solution would either to fully privatise stateside miltary care, or to bring up the medical career field numbers to what they were before the big draw downs of the early 90's.