By Mr. Chuck D Roberts (Army Medicine)December 23, 2009
LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany (Dec. 20, 2009) -- During his first trip downrange as Secretary of the Army, John McHugh was in familiar territory in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well during his subsequent visit to wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center today.
As the 21st Secretary of the Army, McHugh spent a week visiting Soldiers and Army leaders to assess the Army's support to missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. The former Congressman from New York had made 14 prior trips to theater.
When asked what he heard from Soldiers, McHugh said, "The talk amongst the troops is all very positive. My clear impression was they're fully supportive of this new way forward and at least in the minds of those I spoke with, this is the right way to go."
The secretary first traveled to Afghanistan to discuss with commanders their thoughts about the troop surge underway to enforce a new way ahead in that country.
McHugh then visited Kuwait to better understand the challenges of moving and equipping the force as the Army conducts a responsible drawdown in Iraq and executes the surge of forces to Afghanistan.
In Iraq, McHugh said he emphasized to Soldiers that although the mission is drawing down as Iraqis assume stronger leadership, U.S. forces still play a vital role there.
Although changes are underway, McHugh said the Soldiers he met are facing the new mission with the same commitment displayed during previous visits.
"Every time I go, I am surprised at the morale of the troops," McHugh said during an interview in the USO Warrior Center at the conclusion of his trip.
"This has been a long, tough struggle. The unusual thing is not finding someone in a room who has deployed three, four or even five times. The unusual thing is to find someone who is deployed for the first time. And yet, through all that, people continue to step forward to re-up and say, 'I want to go. I want to serve.' And I guess after all these years it shouldn't surprise me, but it's also a pleasant reality," he said.
The secretary spent time at the bedside of numerous Soldiers at LRMC who were wounded or became ill or injured while serving overseas. One of those Soldiers was Spc. Michael Branson who had been evacuated from Afghanistan. Branson said he enjoyed the rare opportunity to meet someone so high in his chain of command.
"It was nice to see that he comes in and gives his time to show his appreciation for us," Branson said after the secretary met a crowd of staff and patients at the USO. "It was nice to see the person that makes the calls that you have to do."
During these types of visits with Soldiers, the McHugh said that he routinely asks Soldiers like Branson to voice their complaints. According to the secretary, wounded warriors at LRMC expressed a high level of satisfaction.
"One of the things I do, whether I visit Walter Reed or one of the facilities such as this is to ask people to complain. What kind of care are they not getting' Is the food bad' What do you want to see done differently' And today at least, I didn't have one single complaint. That's a good thing. But I think it really speaks very clearly to the terrific job at all levels that the people do at this facility," McHugh said.
LRMC, which falls under the command of Europe Regional Medical Command, is the largest American hospital outside of the United States and is verified by the American College of Surgeons as a Level II Trauma Center, making it the only U.S. medical facility overseas to hold that distinction, and only one of three in the Department of Defense.
LRMC provides primary care, tertiary care, hospitalization and treatment for more than 245,000 U.S. military personnel and their families within the European Command. It is also the evacuation and treatment center for all injured U.S. servicemembers, contractors and members of 44 coalition forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, treating more than 59,000 since January 2004.