No Soldier Left Behind?
It's a case of too little too late. Shameful neglect of our brave young wounded soldiers by an administration that talks tough but stumbles and falters when it comes to taking care of those trusted to their care, whether it be wounded soldiers, flood victims or school children.
They are not good at taking care of folks - also not good at taking care of business. They have been remarkably incompetent when it comes to ordering body armor, armor for vehicles or decent medical care and attention for troops. We see again and again that care-taking is not their strong suit, not an activity at which they excel.
Despite the promises of the President and Vice President about supporting our troops, they have failed them miserably. The wounded have received substandard care and housing in Walter Reed Military Hospital and possibly some of the other hospitals devoted to their care. Note AP article, "Lawmaker looks beyond Walter Reed fix" at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2923360&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312
It turns out that President Bush and VP Cheney have given our soldiers shoddy treatment much like the sorry aid they gave the citizens of New Orleans. There is little care-taking they do well, whether it be the rescue of flood victims, the care of the wounded or the teaching of children in troubled schools.
We see a pattern of ineptness reaching across everything they touch. Big with words. Small and clumsy with action. They do not know how to manage a war, the rebuilding of a society, the care of wounded heroes or the education of our young ones. Their grandiose claims in each endeavor rarely match actual performance levels. They almost never walk the talk.
Leaving Soldiers Behind
If anyone deserves good treatment, it would be our wounded. Sacrificing for a war growing less and less popular with the American people as the original purposes turned out to be false, these young men and women served patriotically while the rest of the nation was pretty much insulated from sacrifice by an administration that gave out tax breaks for the wealthy and squandered a budget surplus.
What happened to them in Walter Reed?
The Washington Post documented neglect and substandard conditions:
- Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 18, 2007; Page A01
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
The article goes on to paint a devastating picture of conditions we'd associate with a prison in some third world impoverished nation - not a facility to treat heroes. In addition, once the wounded have completed medical treatment, the Post reports that they often face a long recovery period as outpatients that involves frustrating battles with a slow-moving bureaucracy that can frequently seem insensitive, slow moving and unresponsive.
- Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.
"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."
Another Commission? Too Little Too Late!
Fond of commissions and study groups, the Decider (as President Bush likes to call himself) responded to the hospital scandal with yet another study commission and promises that sounded eerily like those he made after Katrina. He obviously misses the point - that poor treatment of soldiers in Walter Reed is his fault. As Commander-in-Chief, the President must do more than wear flight jackets and strut across the decks of aircraft carriers declaring victories prematurely. He is responsible with Rumsfeld for setting up management procedures that deliver quality services, whether it be for soldiers, the victims of a hurricane or students suffering from poverty and substandard schools.
The Price of Liberty = Eternal Vigilance
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty has been attributed to Jefferson, but regardless of its author, the sentiment is especially apt when top commanders neglect their duty to honor, protect and safeguard the well being of the troops under their care and command.
Due diligence and eternal vigilance go hand in hand. If a manager or a commander cares about those in his or her keeping, there are management techniques designed to keep the leader well informed about the conditions under which the soldiers or workers are living. These techniques have been around for decades and are basic to good leadership.
Throughout the Iraq War this administration has shown itself to be absent-minded and neglectful, failing to exercise the most basic of management skills.
How Could the President Know?
When things are going badly in a war or when wounded troops are receiving substandard care in the hospitals back home, the leaders may surround themselves with assistants that tell them nothing but reassuring accounts of progress. Sadly, it often takes a scandal or an exposé to wake up the organization to bad news or poor performance. Insulated from reality, the leaders go blithely forward spouting glowing statements that are little more than wishful thinking.
Quality performance is rooted in probing analysis, survey work and performance monitoring. Effective leaders at top levels know how to demand data to keep them in touch with reality. Weak leaders prefer the fog of denial and the boss-pleasing activities filtering out any bad news and performance problems.
When these wounded troops complained about bad treatment in Walter Reed Hospital, their complaints apparently fell on deaf ears and were stifled. Instead of welcoming the complaints and heeding them as valuable warning signs that hospital procedures needed changing, the staff hunkered down and treated them as a nuisance.
Later, when these same stories and complaints leaked to the press, we saw a parade of top officers and officials apologizing for disgraceful conditions they were unaware of and distant from, showing a profound lapse of leadership responsibility reaching all the way to the Secretary of Defense, the President and the Vice President, all of whom had repeatedly claimed to support the troops while being detached from monitoring the quality of the actual care.
A Shameful Time in American History
Our leaders had their heads stuck in the wall like the man on the cover of this book.
To be released
by FNO Press
Jamie McKenzie's book on leadership.
Table of Contents
The image of the sculpture, "Corporate Head" by Terry Allen, is reproduced on the book cover with permission of the artist and is copyrighted.
Being alert to risk and dangers involves data collection both within the organization and from outside of the organization.
Surveys of clients and employees are essential ways to judge the quality of performance and pinpoint problems before they have spread to infect the entire enterprise.
In the case of Walter Reed Hospital, surveys of wounded soldiers that asked them to rate their quarters and their treatment would have sounded an early alarm to wake up management and bring about reasonable care.
Check out of a hotel and they give you a survey asking what worked, what did not work, what problems you encountered and how they could improve performance. A leadership team that truly cared about the troops would demand nothing less and would expect the data (positive or negative) to flow to the very top ranks of the organization.
It is inexcusable that a President waits for a scandal to establish a commission to study why the troops received substandard care. It shows weak leadership - what amounts to absentee management.
The Reed failures echo the lapses evident when Katrina hit New Orleans. Top leaders praised weak subordinates for doing a great job even as they were failing in those jobs and unable to take care of people in need, some of whom drowned in hospital beds.
Failure to Monitor NCLB and Reading First
Recent disclosures of scandals in the Ed Department's handling of NCLB/Helter-Skelter echo the absentee management style we witnessed with the wounded at Walter Reed. While the Secretary of Ed and President Bush travel about making inaccurate claims about the success of this law, we see dramatic evidence of scandal and failure. Note this month's companion piece at http://nochildleft.com/2007/mar07false.html. "False Claims and WMDs."
The scandal? The Director of Reading First, who failed1 to make Direct Instruction work in Baltimore prior to his appointment to national leadership, engaged in high pressure tactics that favored his chosen program. His emails provide dramatic evidence of his tactics.
The Secretary's response? First she claimed this went on under a previous Secretary, scurrying to escape blame or responsibility, even though the Director, Christopher J. Doherty, also worked under her supervision for a year. If it were not for the Examiner's investigation, would we have ever learned of his misdeeds? Where was she? On the road speaking and promoting rather than managing and monitoring diligently?
But then she went on to defend his actions as a reasonable way to coax schools toward research proven programs. Even though the law states clearly that no one in the Ed Department may pressure states or schools to adopt particular programs, she endorsed his actions - even though he failed to achieve results with this so-called proven program in Baltimore.
While the Director resigned when the critical report surfaced, so far we have seen no charges, no consequences and no real shift in policy. If it is illegal to push programs, why was it allowed?
1. Before he was promoted to dictate reading policy from Washington, the director of Reading First managed a reform program in Baltimore that created lackluster results for the children and their families.
The Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP), a reform effort funded by the Abell Foundation for eighteen Baltimore elementary schools that hoped to improve the reading scores of disadvantaged urban children using so-called "research-based" programs had to admit disappointing achievements after five years.
For a thorough review of this failure read the article, "Beltway Bosses:
It's Beltway or the Highway - DC Reading Bosses Dictate Programs for the Big Apple" at
Failure to Count Minority Children
The same kind of absentee management applied to Reading First allowed many schools and states to set unreasonably large group sizes when judging the performance of those schools and states in their handling of minority students. By setting high numbers (50), a school could ignore the poor performance of dozens of children that were counted in other states. The number of minority children missed as a result of this loop hole? Two million! They became what Ralph Ellison (author of The Invisible Man) might have called "invisible children." A law supposedly intended to take care of minority and disadvantaged children did just the opposite.
Note article, "NCLB Loopholes" at http://nochildleft.com/2006/apr06holes.html
For an administration that claimed it cared about poor and minority children, to allow this kind of cynical loophole meant that NCLB/Helter-Skelter has put most of its pressure on the schools of poor children while allowing affluent suburbs off the hook. Like many other aspects of NCLB, the law as managed by the Bush team has been unfairly applied as the very children they claimed to protect have been ignored and neglected in the millions. Quick to accuse others of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," this President has allowed millions of children to remain uncounted. True bigotry.
There are disturbing parallels here in the way the Administration has treated soldiers, the victims of Katrina and disadvantaged school children. The consistent theme running through all three of these situations is neglect and mismanagement combined with a callous disregard for the real impact of careless, distant leadership.
History Will Judge
In a hundred years, historians will judge this past decade as an especially dark time in U.S. history. Basic American values of decency and caring have been violated by a team that mouths those values while actually ignoring or violating them. They have substituted lip service for care-taking.