Secretary of Defense Among Ice Casualties

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

As defense secretary, Robert M. Gates personally has been to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan -- some of the most dangerous places in the world. But it was the path to his front door in Washington on Tuesday night that took him down, even if only momentarily.

Falling victim to the hazardous ice sheen that coated much of the region on Tuesday, Gates slipped and fell hard on his right shoulder, fracturing his arm. He became one of countless casualties of the treacherous conditions that jammed the region's roads, caused numerous car accidents and turned sidewalks into skating rinks.

Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said Gates was returning from dinner at about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday with his personal security guards when he lost his footing. Gates immediately called his doctor but shrugged off medical care until yesterday morning, when he met with a Pentagon medical team and learned through X-rays that he had fractured his upper humerus, the bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow.

A trip to Bethesda Naval Hospital to see an orthopedic surgeon -- who decided that Gates did not need an operation -- caused him to miss an appearance before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on the Pentagon's budget request. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England filled in.

Authority for the Defense Department was never transferred to England because Gates was never incapacitated, and hours later the Pentagon chief was in his office, wearing a sling on his right arm, getting back to his regular business. Gates, 64, is left-handed.

"It's his style to grin and bear it," Morrell said, adding that Gates probably will have to miss his regular early-morning runs for the time being but is expected to recover soon. "I think he's going to be fine. It's one of those inconvenient and painful things that we all occasionally have to deal with."

Members of the House panel sent their best wishes to Gates, who has been very well received at Capitol Hill hearings and has been praised for his straightforward approach with members of Congress. England echoed those sentiments.

"I'll tell you, more than anyone else in Washington, I'm anxious for the secretary to be back on the job," England said. "So he definitely has my wishes to get well quickly."

On Sept. 5, 2006, England assumed authority for the Pentagon response in the event of hostile aircraft entering U.S. airspace, when then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had rotator cuff surgery on his left arm. Rumsfeld also wore a sling to work until he healed.

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