"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Monday, October 04, 2004
More than three decades ago, the Pentagon created two pills to ward off a lethal virus infecting boot-camp recruits. But defense officials abandoned the program in 1996 as too expensive. Now recruits are dying, thousands are falling ill, and the military is desperately racing to bring back a vaccine it once owned.
A top Pentagon official called it "a major screw-up," hobbling U.S. efforts to rapidly deploy troops abroad.
The respiratory virus now infects up to 2,500 service members monthly — a staggering 1 in 10 recruits — in the nation's eight basic-training centers, an analysis of military health-care records shows.
Since the oral vaccinations stopped, the flulike germ, adenovirus, has been associated with the deaths of at least six recruits, four within the past year, according to military records and internal reports obtained by The Seattle Times.
In addition, hundreds of bed-ridden recruits miss critical training and have to be sent through boot camp again, at a cost of millions of dollars each year. Some are dismissed permanently with medical disabilities.
The virus is expected to kill an additional six to 10 recruits before a vaccine is again available, according to a classified Defense Department briefing this year.
At a time when the services are at best overstretched, this is something we can ill afford. Of course, I would love to be able to blame this on the Bush administration, but on this one they're not guilty - the Pentagon's screwup predates the Rumsfeld regime by several years. In any event, blame is not helpful. The fact is that one in ten military recruits are being affected by adenovirus, often in ways that compromise training and, therefore, readiness. That is simply unacceptable.
It sounds as though there are some simple, common-sense steps the Pentagon can take to reduce the impact of this disease, including emphasis on basic hygiene (more hand washing, less sharing of towels). The ironic thing is that Rumsfeld - who sucks at war planning, but excels at bureaucratic wonkiness - may be just the guy to implement such methods. In the meanwhile, recruits are well advised to take whatever reasonable precautions they can on their own to protect themselves. Also, one hopes (and this article provides some reason to hope) that military doctors will be more aggressive in diagnosing and actively battling the disease.
Finally - I love slagging the Times (or, as the paper is known here in Seattle, "Fairview Fanny"), but they deserve three loud cheers for some first rate journalism on this story. Credit where it's due, and all.