This week Senate Democrats continued to conduct oversight of the President’s conduct of the war. Senate Democrats are united in their determination to hold the President accountable for his failed strategy in Iraq and guarantee American veterans have the support they deserve.
On Tuesday, June 19th, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of the Honorable reston M. Geren to be Secretary of the Army
Here are some highlights:
Senators ask Secretary Geren tough questions about deployment extensions, the strain on our troops, conditions at Walter Reid, and force modernization.
SEN. LEVIN: …did the Army consider the findings of the mental health advisory team when developing the plan to extend Army tours to 15 months?
SEN. WARNER: Mr. Secretary, how well you know that the past 18 months, particularly, there have been many opinions rendered about the Army severely over-stressed, over-extended, even the word "broken" has been used. …What series of benchmarks, what series of alarms have you put in place to alert you as the secretary of the Army, if confirmed, that we’ve got to make some corrective courses and, indeed, might require you to go to the secretary of defense and point it out and those deficiencies that you’ve discovered could well impact on our policy, whether it’s how long we stay to whether we can keep our troops there for longer periods, as the chairman said?
SEN. AKAKA: Yesterday, the "Washington Post" reported that there continues to be problems at Walter Reed. The main thrust of the article is that at Walter Reed, care for soldiers struggling with war’s mental trauma is undermined by, one, doctor shortages and, two, unfocused treatment methods. Secretary Geren, since you are currently the acting secretary, can you tell us if you were already aware of the problems described in the article and, if so, what has been done about that? And if you were not previously aware of the problems, can you tell us why we are finding out about the problems at Walter Reed through the "Washington Post?"
SEN. AKAKA: …one of the parts of yesterday’s "Washington Post" articles on Walter Reed that alarmed me and I’m sure many others was that the patient, Private First Class Joshua Calloway, was still not tested for traumatic brain injury, TBI, seven months after arriving at Walter Reed, despite showing potential symptoms. In addition, one would have thought that he would have been tested upon arrival or shortly thereafter, since he survived several bomb blasts while deployed in Iraq. According to the article, Secretary, there are 43 times as many troops with psychological injuries from this war is from physical injuries. Why then are we still failing to test soldiers for TBI if you know that answer?
SEN. WARNER: In this, as you say, this conflict to principally Afghanistan and Iraq and, understandably, the principal focus is on the needs for these conflicts. But at the same time, Secretary, you’ve got to project ahead a minimum of a decade and, indeed, beyond to put in place those programs and initiatives which will build America’s future Army. Now, how are you going to do that and, at the same time, meet these extraordinary requirements of the conflicts?
Secretary Geren says it is too early to judge the surge, leaves open the option of maintaining troop levels into 2008.
SEN. LEVIN: Mr. Secretary, in a news interview last weekend, General Petraeus indicated that the surge would not be completed and that its mission would not be completed by September. He said that, historically, counterinsurgencies have gone on for nine or ten years, and the question is this. Should the higher troop level of the surge continue into the spring of 2008? Several Army officials have said privately that units will have to be extended even longer than the current 15-month deployment or the dwell time between rotations would have to be reduced below the 12 months that you just mentioned. What are the implications for Army units if the current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are maintained into the spring of 2008?
SECRETARY GEREN: We’re in the process of exploring those options. It’s too early to judge the surge. It’s too early to look into the next year. But for the Army, we have to begin to plan. We have to look at our options and we’re exploring numerous options and have to look at all the components of the Army, the total Army. We have to look at every way that we can support that demand. At this point in time, we’re not in a position to answer that fully. We are looking over the horizon, trying to anticipate what it might be and looking at the options on how we will fill that demand.
Secretary Geren testified that the decision to extend deployments to 15 months was “the best of two very tough choices to make” and that he hopes the Army can work its way back to 12-month deployments.
SEN. WEBB: …As you may know, I am deeply troubled by the 15-month deployment requirements that have been put on the Army, even separate from the less than 1:1 ratio with the 12-month dwell time back here. …I’m just wondering who was talking for the well-being and the health of the soldiers when this requirement was put down? I personally cannot see any element of a strategy of a commitment that’s been going on for more than four years that can justify doing this to the soldiers in the Army and the families back here.
SECRETARY GEREN: Let me speak to that. Senator, I have to tell you that when we were forced to face the decision of how we were going to meet the demand from the combatant commanders and we considered the two options that were in front of us, one was to continue as we were going and make decisions on extensions on an ad hoc basis. And we found ourselves making them over and over and over on an ad hoc basis. In fact, we had a couple of instances where we had brigades already had some of the folks back home when we decided to extend.
Considering where we stand right now, in order to meet the demand from the combatant commander, extensions were inevitable. And we had to choose between having these ad hoc extensions and treating every unit differently, with no predictability, no commitment on what the dwell time would be or as the best, in my opinion, of the two bad choices, coming up with a 15-month extension with a commitment on — and 12 months out. Now, we hope to work ourselves out of that. But considering where we found ourselves when that decision was made, I felt it was the best of the two very tough choices to make.
Secretary Geren calls stop loss a “necessary” policy to meet the current pace of deployments, but says it also is a policy that the Army hopes to end.
SEN. REED: Stop loss — did you anticipate that stop loss policy will remain in effect…
SECRETARY GEREN: Yes, sir.
SEN. REED: …for the foreseeable future? And I understand about 5,500 soldiers were denied their voluntary request to leave the service this year. (inaudible) this year and 5,500 next year, is that about right?
SECRETARY GEREN: Right now we have about 8,000 that are under stop loss. Last year it was about 11,000. We anticipate by the end of the year it will be around 5,500, 6,000. We look at the stop loss as a necessary process right now to meet our deployment schedules. Secretary Gates — and I agree with him, stop loss is something that we need to work our way out of. And I have tasked the Army to come up with a plan to work us out of stop loss, to come with alternatives, come up with incentives. And I have met with Army staff multiple times over the four months that I’ve been in this job as acting secretary on that issue and continue to work with them.
Secretary Geren acknowledges that the Geneva Convention and our core military values were violated at Abu Ghraib and vows to uphold a high standard of accountability if confirmed.
SEN. LEVIN: They were violated. Put it that way. Do you believe that the laws of land warfare were violated at Abu Ghraib? Do you believe that the tenets of the Geneva Convention were violated? Do you believe our principles were violated, that the core of our military values were violated at Abu Ghraib? That’s my question.
SECRETARY GEREN: Yes, sir, I do.
SEN. LEVIN: And do you believe that civilian and military leaders who were responsible should be held accountable? Whether that’s happened or not isn’t the question. Should they be held accountable?
SECRETARY GEREN: Should people responsible be held accountable?
SEN. LEVIN: Yes.
SECRETARY GEREN: Sir, absolutely. And I can assure you, if I am confirmed, I am going to insist on a high standard of accountability.