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Fighting The War On Crutches

Perhaps there's some German compound word that adequately describes how ridiculous this situation has become:

Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.

Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. "I could not walk," he told Salon in an interview. He said he was amazed when he learned he was being sent to California. "Did they not realize that I'm hurt and I needed this physical therapy?" he remembered thinking. "I was told by my doctor and my physical therapist that this was crazy."

. . .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.

Military experts say they suspect that the deployment to Fort Irwin of injured soldiers was an effort to pump up manpower statistics used to show the readiness of Army units. With the military increasingly strained after four years of war, Army readiness has become a critical part of the debate over Iraq. Some congressional Democrats have considered plans to limit the White House's ability to deploy more troops unless the Pentagon can certify that units headed into the fray are fully equipped and fully manned.

. . .It is unclear exactly how many soldiers with health issues were sent to the California desert. None of the soldiers interviewed by Salon had done a head count, but all agreed that "dozens" would be a conservative estimate. An Army spokesman and public affairs officials for the 3rd Infantry Division did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking further detail and an explanation of why injured troops were sent to Fort Irwin and housed in tents there during January.

Army strawng, brother. Army strawng.