Army relieves Walter Reed general of command

They lost confidence in his leadership ability to phone exterminators and have mold removed. Problem is, it sounds like they fired the wrong guy. Or at least, not the first guy they should have fired:

[A]s far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army’s top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews…

Kiley lives across the street from Building 18. From his quarters, he can see the scrappy building and busy traffic the soldiers must cross to get to the 113-acre post. At a news conference last week, Kiley, who declined several requests for interviews for this article, said that the problems of Building 18 “weren’t serious and there weren’t a lot of them.” He also said they were not “emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families.”

But according to interviews, Kiley, his successive commanders at Walter Reed and various top noncommissioned officers in charge of soldiers’ lives have heard a stream of complaints about outpatient treatment over the past several years. The complaints have surfaced at town hall meetings for staff and soldiers, at commanders’ “sensing sessions” in which soldiers or officers are encouraged to speak freely, and in several inspector general’s reports detailing building conditions, safety issues and other matters.

Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr., who commanded Walter Reed for two years until last August, said that he was aware of outpatient problems and that there were “ongoing reviews and discussions” about how to fix them when he left. He said he shared many of those issues with Kiley, his immediate commander…

Beverly Young said she complained to Kiley several times. She once visited a soldier who was lying in urine on his mattress pad in the hospital. When a nurse ignored her, Young said, “I went flying down to Kevin Kiley’s office again, and got nowhere. He has skirted this stuff for five years and blamed everyone else.”

Rumsfeld’s wife makes a cameo towards the end of the piece, suggesting that he knew things weren’t shipshape there, too.

The new acting commander at Walter Reed as of this afternoon? Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. Although maybe not for long:

Last week, the Army relieved of their duties several low-ranking soldiers who managed outpatients at Walter Reed. The soldiers were not publicly identified, and details of their alleged transgressions were not released.

Disclosing the action, Gates hinted to reporters after a visit to Walter Reed that higher-ranking officers also could face disciplinary measures. “We will be looking and evaluating the rest of the chain of command as we get more information,” he said.

Update: There’s an interesting essay at Slate about buck-passing in the military that might explain some of this.

Walter Reed’s problems also illustrate just how bad the Army has gotten at passing information—particularly negative information—up and down its chain of command. Typically, subordinate units submit reports on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to their headquarters. At each level of command, these reports get filtered, collated, combined, and resynthesized. Like the children’s game of telephone, the message frequently changes in transmission. The result can be a terribly distorted picture of reality at the higher echelons of command.

In Iraq, where I advised the Iraqi police, I saw this reverse filtration system (whereby excrement is added to the final product, instead of being removed) in action. Reports on police readiness were aggregated, generalized, and stripped of their facts as they moved up the chain of command. In one report, I included an anecdote about an Iraqi police colonel picking his nose to show his displeasure with a new U.S. reporting system for police readiness, a detail I thought illustrated the depth of Iraqi contempt for U.S. bureaucracy. This detail squeaked through, but I earned a sharp reprimand for including it, and I learned to keep such facts out of future reports. By the time our reports reached the national level, they contained little of the detail so essential for explaining our progress in standing up the Iraqi police force. This problem exists in many military organizations.