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Oops! We Did It Again.
The ranking Republican member, John McHugh (N.Y.), was no less skeptical. "In many ways, this challenge isn't being met, and I find the current circumstances unacceptable," he said. "Do you gentlemen agree with that?" Rochelle nodded his head. "Anybody disagree with that?" Nobody moved.
But with the choreography of a Special Forces team, the four generals, each in dark olive with well-shined shoes, professed their devotion to the cause.
"Warrior care is our highest priority, second only to the global war on terror," Wilson said.
"We have no higher priority," added Rubenstein, "except for putting boots on the ground itself in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Manning the warrior transition units is only second to manning those units preparing to deploy," affirmed Rochelle.
The officers were careful to avoid the sort of bluster that caused their predecessors to be fired in the immediate aftermath of the Walter Reed scandal -- although Rubenstein got close with his boast that "we're doing phenomenal work." Instead, they heaped flattery on their interrogators.
Cheek voiced a desire to "thank Congress for the leadership and support you provide to the Army in the development and execution of this program." Rochelle thanked the half-dozen lawmakers at the hearing for their "continued support" for the "wounded warriors and families that we are all honored to serve." Wilson chimed in with praise for congressional funding. And Rubenstein managed to find gratitude that committee staff members were "very open with all of their findings."
The lawmakers were disarmed. Davis spoke of the "overall positive direction" and her confidence that the Army is "clearly providing better support" for the wounded.
Delicately, and with careful use of qualifiers, the generals argued that things had improved over 16 months. "We know we have come a long way," Rochelle said. "We also know that we still have a long way to go."
Rubenstein professed to be "working diligently at executing an outstanding Army Medical Action Plan," even if there are "challenges in its execution."
It didn't take much questioning for the "challenges" to trip up the generals. Asked whether the Army is offering competitive pay, Rubenstein boasted that "in some communities, we are too competitive" -- but a moment later complained about how he "can't compete" with the pay at civilian hospitals.
"But you told me you were overly competitive, General," McHugh said. "Which are you?"
After that, the generals mostly stuck with concession and contrition: "We had not sufficiently empowered our commanders. . . . We're going to review this. . . . We've had our challenges. . . . It simply wasn't nimble enough. . . . It is a logjam. . . . We are not meeting the standard. . . . That's a valid concern."
Finding no argument, the lawmakers brought the hearing to a prompt close, but not before another round of mutual flattery. Cheek thanked the committee for its support. Wilson thanked McHugh for the pleasant hearing. Rubenstein praised the staff for its "amazing openness." The chairwoman found herself telling the generals: "Thank you for thanking our staff." Rubenstein, now dry, retrieved his perspiration cloth and hid it under his papers.