Sweating All the Stuff, Big and Small

Monday, January 30, 2006

Abuse is Rampant at Fort Sill, Oklahoma

After an absence from blogging for many months, I’m going to co-opt my own forum for what may seem to be a side issue. It has come to my attention that there is a place at Army Basic Training installations called PTRP (Physical Training Rehabilitation Program). Theoretically, it’s for soldiers who have been injured during training to rehabilitate and be returned to training. Perhaps that is the case at some of those facilities. I really couldn’t say. But in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Field Artillery, it’s different. I’ve discussed the tale that I’m about to tell with many regular folks, and some soldiers on active duty. Their responses range from disbelief to incredulity. The sad thing is that those with the power to change it view it as business as usual.

Whatever its original purpose, the PTRP at Fort Sill is now a warehouse for a sliding inventory of 40-50 injured soldiers, and its occupants have been there for tenure of up to fourteen months. Current regulations state that in order to be admitted to PTRP, a soldier “is likely to recover within 4 months, and complete all the physical requirements of training.” In another area of the TR 350-6, they do acknowledge that a stay can be “up to 6 months in duration”.

It all started in August, 2005, when a young man whom will we call Private Sincere enlisted in the Army. He probably should have known when his first MOS (job description) was misrepresented to him, that this did not bode well for his future in the Army. Still, his brother was on duty in Iraq, and he wanted to “do something”. He went back to the MEPS (military entry processing station) with his recruiter, who helped him to change to the MOS he “thought” he had in the first place.

Once in Basic Training, Private Sincere was injured by late August. He called his home, alarmed at the fact that his feet were so swollen he couldn’t lace his combat boots, and he was in extreme pain. He was not allowed to seek medical attention, or to take anything to relieve his pain and inflammation. Pvt. Sincere was derided as if he had somehow deliberately created the symptoms. His mother wrote to the liaison officer, and Private Sincere was sent to “sick call” (after more verbal abuse). He received ibuprofen and was restricted from running. He did well in all other aspects of his training. He finished his Advanced Individual Training and was second in his class. He was ordered to take an alternative event (walking instead of running) and passed all other aspects of his final PT (physical training) test. In fact, he finally received a bone scan (nearly 3 months after the symptoms began) an hour after he successfully completed the final PT test. The scan revealed stress fractures. Private Sincere graduated and then, immediately after the ceremony, was informed that he and two other soldiers were being assigned to the PTRP. They wouldn’t be going to their first duty stations. So sayeth Colonel Fulton, who waited until the last moment to have his subordinate, Captain Cunningham, drop this on the drill sergeants of the three graduates as their families, who had come from across the country, waited for them. Later, Capt. Cunningham would have to “ungraduate” the three young soldiers in order for the PTRP to accept them. It had made good theater, however, at the graduation ceremony, to be able to say that they had 100% graduation (this naturally didn’t include those who had been discharged in the early stages of the process). The drill sergeants and officers were all quite self-congratulatory that they had taken this motley crew of useless “recruits” and turned them into soldiers. Somehow, the fact that these young men had all volunteered in service to their country, and stuck it out until the end, didn’t matter. [I recall when my eldest son graduated from Basic Training at Fort Knox in 2000, the presentation, at least, was quite different. -PD]

At first, it wasn’t too bad for Private Sincere and his fellow retainees. Soldiers were given limited exercise and duty, and RICE (rest, ice compression, elevation), and allowed to watch some TV or read while they maintained their quarters and recuperated. In Private Sincere’s case, the initial rest (sprinkled with a little hope) was the only thing that could help him. The three graduates were in an awkward position, because technically they had completed all their training. They had been promised (as had their families) that they would be treated humanely, and that they would retain their status as graduates. They might not be able to wear their hard won berets, but Capt. Cunningham assured the concerned parents of the three holdovers that he would speak to the sergeant at PTRP and explain their special circumstances as graduates. This, of course, was soon remedied by the fact that Capt. Cunningham had to “ungraduate” them. And so began the three privates descent into a real twilight zone. IMAGINE A BOOT CAMP THAT NEVER ENDS…

The Inspector General’s office found no regulations had been broken in the “ungraduation”. Instead, it was related that those in charge had exceeded their authority by ordering an alternate walking event for the unsuspecting three. Regulations did not forbid the alternate event, but did not provide for it, either. What “should” have happened in Private Sincere’s case was that he “should” have been assigned to PTRP when his injuries first became apparent. He was described as “lucky” to have been allowed to complete his training. [How is it lucky to continue to stress an injury for nearly 3 months after it occurs?] “All” he had to do now was to run 2 miles in 16 minutes and 36 seconds (8 mins and 18 secs per mile) and on he could go to his first duty station…or back to basic training (recycled) as if he had not been through that gauntlet already and graduated.

The initial living conditions in the PTRP were bad enough. There were 50 “privates” in a bay (like a crowded dorm). Sewage backed up on a regular basis, creating obvious health hazards. Mentally ill privates were housed with privates whose injuries were purely physical in nature. One private frequently cut himself. Another sang at the top of his lungs, 24 hours a day. Another talked to himself constantly, muttering and cursing, and trying to start fights. Some were on medication, and couldn’t even stand up for evening formation…literally incoherent and drooling on themselves [one particular private who fits this description has been in PTRP for 14 months]. These privates were initially put into PTRP for physical injuries, but had deteriorated over time. Exploratory surgeries were done on some, and they’d wake up to discover that multiple procedures had been performed without their knowledge. On at least one soldier, those procedures had to be corrected by additional surgery. Some soldiers were alarmed and went to the mental health counseling unit where they were told, “We’re getting tired of being the counselors to PTRP.” There was a parade of temporary drill sergeants, some who actually cared about these young men. One of them even managed to get permission for these soldiers to enroll in college classes while they were in PTRP. But that was before Sergeant Langford.

Sgt. Langford is permanently assigned to the PTRP. He’s certain that these injured soldiers are all malingerers…he’s been heard to say so. This is despite the fact that no soldier in PTRP is there without a medical profile that states their condition and allowed activity levels. After canceling all weekend on-base passes (PTRP soldiers are not allowed off-base passes), one of Langford’s first acts was to require these injured soldiers to scrape the bay floor with glorified razor blades and re-wax it. Soldiers with a variety of injuries, including those who’d recently had surgery, and those with broken bones, were crawling around on their hands and knees, scraping the floor [note: the size of this floor area takes days to scrape]. They completed this task and waxed the floor, only to be told that it wasn’t good enough. The scraping began again, and as of the time of this blog post, continues. In addition, the PTRP occupants are no longer allowed to sit down when not working on the floor, in direct conflict with their medical profiles. The rest of the base is now benefiting from these soldiers’ plight as well as a source of “free labor”. The privates are now required to work at various locations, regardless of the degree of physical activity, regardless of their medical profiles. I’m told, however, that the privates look forward to this because they are treated like human beings at these jobs. So they perform their work without regard for the physical toll it may take on them…anything to get away from the punitive conditions in the PTRP. Oh, and those soldiers who were unfortunate enough to enroll in classes before Langford’s arrival…they’re allowed no time to do their homework. The FTU (Fitness Training Unit) is overflowing, and as a consequence, the PTRP occupants (currently numbering 40+) are stuffed into ½ the space they had before (i.e., ½ a bay). Raids, euphemistically known as “health and welfare” have been instituted, with searches for forbidden items. Last raid, a pack of cigarettes was found…and that soldier’s punishment by Sgt. Langford exceeded the punishments for several AWOL soldiers who returned from Christmas break 6 days late, and the two soldiers whose urine tests were positive for hard drugs like cocaine. Confidential medical records sent for another private were read aloud by Sgt. Langford as he made fun of the soldier.

It appears that Sgt. Langford has found his soul mate. This past weekend, Sgt. Bullock, of the FTU, ordered all 70 members of the FTU and PTRP to arise from their beds every hour from 10PM to 2AM for formation. Anyone who did not comply would be given an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment). Three of the soldiers in the PTRP were on sleep profiles; i.e., mandated 7 hours of sleep per night, and given sleeping medication to ensure it. So their fellow privates had to get them out of bed, help them to dress and stumble out to formation, at 10 PM., 11 PM. 12 AM, 1AM, and 2 AM. Just to keep it interesting, Sgt. Bullock required two uniform changes. That made sure that the exhausted soldiers couldn’t just fall back into bed in their uniforms and rise up for formation. Finally, they were allowed to sleep after 2AM formation, until 5AM. The members of PTRP already have to report for formation five times a day. Now it appears that 5 times a night is acceptable as well. Remember, this is a PHYSICAL REHABILITATION UNIT.

THESE SOLDIERS HAVR DONE NOTHING WRONG. THEY WERE INJURED. They are not supposed to be in detention, and yet they are being punished over and over again. The final irony is that the PTRP families have received invitations to “Family Day Weekends” at Fort Sill for PTRP soldiers (February 3rd, March 10th, and April 14th). This is supposed to boost morale. Perhaps Sgt. Langford will invite the families to watch their injured relatives scrape the floors? Maybe Sgt. Bullock can give everyone a laugh and invite them to a midnight formation of the injured and the drugged? Maybe a plunger party? Perhaps Captain Cunningham will be on hand to explain to the parents of Private Sincere and his two fellow graduates why he lied to them? [We all know why, to get rid of them, but it might be interesting to see him squirm] Perhaps Colonel Fulton could explain why he is allowing this abuse in the name of PHYSICAL REHABILITATION?

If abuse like this of our own soldiers is systemic, is it any wonder that abuses occur with the helpless and weak (as well as the detained) when our soldiers are deployed?

After following all the existing protocols for complaint she could find, and a fax to her congressional representative [no response], Private Sincere’s mother finally decided to go public on this blog. She is concerned for the ramifications for her son. What will happen to him? To his credit, Private Sincere’s frustration with his own situation is nothing compared to his outrage at how the severely injured and helpless are treated. I hope some of you who read this will share his outrage. Imagine that these fine young men are your sons, husbands, brothers, etc. Imagine a boot camp that never ends and pray that your relatives never have to endure it.


  • At 3:52 PM, Blogger Jessica Turnbach said…

    This is an ancient, blog, but reading it gives me flashbacks. I was a female at Ft. Jackson PTRP between 2003-2004. *Shudders*


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