- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Top Army officials told U.S. senators yesterday the service is scrambling to find doctors and housing for thousands of troops who will return from Operation Iraqi Freedom early next year.

The Army is worried about a shortage similar to the logistical crunch that left more than 600 soldiers waiting weeks and sometimes months for medical care at Fort Stewart, Ga. Some sick and injured National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers at Fort Stewart stayed in concrete barracks with no running water and no air conditioning while they waited.

The situation was first reported in October by United Press International.

Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee and Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said a massive rotation of several hundred thousand troops early next year could strain Army medicine and housing beyond capacity. Mr. Brownlee said between 200,000 and 250,000 soldiers, including 120,000 reservists, would be going to or returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom during the first four months of next year.

“This movement that we are going to do in the early months of next year is huge,” Gen. Schoomaker told Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat. “This is going to be huge, and we are anticipating to be really challenged in this area that you are talking about right here.”

Mr. Akaka had asked what the Army was doing “to ensure that the problems experienced at Fort Stewart … are not repeated?”

Mr. Brownlee said the Army has set a standard that sick and injured soldiers must be in clean housing with climate control and running water. The Army is also giving soldiers access to civilian doctors and increasing military medical staff. It is also considering the construction of prefabricated structures to accommodate an influx of soldiers.

Mr. Brownlee said the problems at Fort Stewart were not unique.

“It was happening other places, too,” he told Mr. Akaka.

But he also said the upcoming rotation could overwhelm current resources.

“To my knowledge, the Army has never had a rotation like this in the past,” Mr. Brownlee said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday held the hearing to discuss the shortage of medical care and of poor housing apparent at Fort Stewart.

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