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Activists see deception in night arrivals at Walter Reed

Holding candles and placards, a group of activists stand vigil in front of the entrance to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, protesting what they believe is the Pentagon’s attempt to hide war casualties by only bringing the wounded in at night.

JON ANDERSON / S&S

Shielding wounded denies cost of war, say vigil attendees

By JON R. ANDERSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 31, 2005

WASHINGTON — Steeling against rain and cold night air, clutching candles and placards, a group of activists are standing nightly vigils at the entrance to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, protesting what they believe is the Pentagon’s attempt to hide the human toll of the war in Iraq.

With wounded troops arriving from Germany, where most receive treatment after being stabilized in the field, flights to the United States are arranged so that soldiers are admitted into Walter Reed for follow on care at night.

“When we first heard about this, we were appalled,” said vigil organizer Gael Murphy, part of nationwide grass roots women’s group dubbed Code Pink. “Why are they bringing them in only at night? Is it because they don’t want the media to cover it? Is it because they don’t want Americans to see the real cost of this war?”

No, say military officials.

“Night arrivals are beneficial to the patient, as they allow for a regular night of sleep, and then for doctors in Europe to make final determination on their ability to make the long flight, move patients from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and board the plane,” wrote Walter Reed spokeswoman Lyn Kurkal, in a prepared statement.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck said the arrival times were simply a matter of Air Force scheduling.

A spokesman for Air Mobility Command cited operating restrictions and patient processing in Germany.

Injured troops arrive at Andrews Air Force Base on Aeromedical Evacuation channel missions aboard C-141 Starlifter aircraft.

“These missions are scheduled to depart Ramstein in compliance with airfield operational restrictions and allow patients a restful night before the long trans-Atlantic flight,” the spokesman said in a written response to Stars and Stripes questions.

“The Defense Department has been nothing but forthcoming in reporting the cost of war,” said Jim Turner, another Pentagon spokesman, pointing to press releases on every servicemember killed, plus daily updates on numbers of wounded.

According to a Monday press release from Walter Reed, the hospital has treated 3,985 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began, 1,050 of whom have been battle casualties.

But statistics and press releases are one thing, say the activists, the reality of burns and missing limbs quite another.

The activists say the practice seems too much like the White House ban on the filming of honor cordons repatriating war dead to U.S. soil in flag-draped coffins.

“The guys in here are the real cost of the war,” says George Taylor, a former Navy officer and veteran of the 1962 Cuban Blockade, shrugging off the night cold among about two dozen activists outside the Walter Reed gates Tuesday night.

“It’s just shameful that the military would try and sneak them in like this and hope no one notices their wounds,” he adds, as a red minivan sporting a “Support our troops” yellow ribbon passes by. The driver honks the horn, yelling “We support you!” to the activists.

Kevin McCarron, a former Marine intelligence specialist and a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, said he thinks the late-night admittances are a dishonor to the troops.

“They should be feted as they arrive, honored as heroes, not slipped through the back door like this,” he said.


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