WASHINGTON – One in five Army generals could not deploy in 2016 for medical reasons, according to data obtained by USA TODAY, a troubling finding regarding the military’s readiness to fight that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has vowed to fix.
Overdue medical and dental exams were the primary reasons for what the Army refers to as medical readiness in 2016. The medical readiness rate for generals has improved to nearly 85 percent, according to Brig. Gen. Omar Jones, the Army’s top spokesman. Almost all generals, 97.4 percent, can now deploy after taking care of minor issues such as having updated blood tests and dental exams.
“The Army’s top priority is readiness and soldiers are expected to be world-wide deployable to ensure our Army is ready to fight today and in the future,” Jones said. “The data from 2016 does not reflect recent improvements in medical readiness for the Army as a whole and for the general officer corps specifically.”
The data were contained in a June 2017 report on the state of the Army’s general officer corps that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The study was commissioned after a series of high-profile scandals involving generals and admirals came to light. In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel created an office to investigate ethical problems among senior leaders. An investigation by USA TODAY last year found that military investigators had documented at least 500 cases of serious misconduct among its generals, admirals and senior civilians, almost half of those instances involving personal or ethical lapses.
One of the most recent cases involved Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, who was fired for making sexually suggestive comments to women and failing to report suicide attempts among airmen in his command.
Most of the Army’s 2017 report released to USA TODAY was redacted. However, sections that included data on deployability for generals and programs to improve their mental and physical health were included. It noted “Points of Stress” for generals that include combat, deployment, family separation, loss and uncertainty. Another category termed, “Complicators,” listed aging, caring for parents, disease risk and teenagers.
Data for 2016 showed that 83.5 percent of Army soldiers were deemed medically ready to deploy, the lowest rate among the services. The Marine Corps led with 90.2 percent followed by the Navy at 90.1 percent and the Air Force at 88.8 percent. The rate for active-duty, ready-to-deploy generals, not including the Reserve or National Guard, was 79.6 percent. For active-duty soldiers overall, the figure was 84 percent, and the Army’s goal is 85 percent.
The top factors for failing to meet the standard was being overdue for an annual physical or dental exam, a relatively easy fix. The report included a recommendation to “Enforce Wellness” that enables generals to receive the evaluations and treatment they needed and “ensure that they do so.”
To that end, the Army has sent 62 generals to its executive health program at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Jones said. Over a three-day period, generals receive health-care services and assessments. By the end of 2019, 234 more generals will have been through the program.
Jones noted that gains had been made and are reflected in the medical readiness for generals, which is now 84.7 percent.
Mattis took office in January 2017, and this year served notice that he was making readiness to fight a top priority for the Pentagon.
If troops can’t deploy, Mattis said, others must take their place. The burden of combat and time away from family falls unevenly, he said. Exceptions are made for those wounded in combat or injured in accidents.
“But this is a deployable military,” Mattis told reporters in February. “It’s a lethal military that aligns with our allies and partners. If you can’t go overseas in your combat load – carry a combat load, then obviously someone else has got to go. I want this spread fairly and equitably across the force.”
The report also recommends that generals look after their own “wellness.” It encourages them to take at least one 10-day vacation away from their posts and to get enough sleep.
There’s advice from Gen. John Nicholson, at the time the top commander of troops in Afghanistan. Nicholson uses the “2/3/7” rule. He asks each of his leaders to spend two hours a day alone, eat three meals and sleep for at least seven hours a night.