Fort Stewart, Ga. – home of the U.S. Army’s mighty 3rd Mech “Marne” Division – got eaten alive by the press last week.

This is the same gallant outfit George Bush honored with the Presidential Unit Citation for its record-breaking charge across the desert to seize Baghdad in a blitzkrieg that set the bar for future conflicts.

What triggered the feeding frenzy was UPI reporting, “Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers, including many who served in the Iraq war, are languishing in hot cement barracks … while they wait – sometimes for months – to see doctors.”

The reporter, who got the story only half-right, also created the impression that our commanders and docs at Fort Stewart are flat ignoring battle casualties, especially reservists.

Which is not true.

As I stated several months ago on “The G. Gordon Liddy Show,” the medical holding facilities at Stewart are overcrowded – not with wounded-in-action heroes but with sick or malingering soldiers. Mainly reservists and Guard folks who were called to active duty and found not fit to fight.

Yes, the Army Reserve and Guard soldiers’ medical-holding living conditions at Stewart are substandard. And it’s affirmative that the overworked medics there have not been able to provide the kind of care they’d like. But in the triage process, battle casualties have received top priority; they haven’t been shuffled off to some dank corner and ignored.

Like the rest of our Army and Marine Corps, the soldiers at Stewart are being pushed to the limit in every area – especially the docs and grunts. There are just too many troops for the existing docs to service and too many for the post to properly house.

But the bigger picture part of the story that UPI missed and Congress needs to investigate is why thousands of reservists and Guard soldiers have been called up and then found not fit to fight. Why are they still on the Pentagon’s costly payroll if they can’t do the job?

Then too, this mess wouldn’t have exploded across the media if commanders had been in touch with their troops.

Since the commanding general of the 3rd Mech Division was otherwise occupied putting down Saddam, the Fort Stewart post commanding officer should have raised Cain until Fort Stewart was reinforced with enough medics to take care of the sick, lame and lazy, and sufficient money was allocated to either renovate the substandard quarters or relocate the medical holdovers.

Recently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, shocked yours truly when he said he was worried that he and other top leaders were only allowed to talk to “all the happy folks.”

Imagine a four-star who’s head honcho of the U.S. armed forces complaining that he can’t talk to any soldier he wants and can’t go anyplace he wants. Give me a break. Even a lieutenant knows it’s the nature of the system to try to keep disgruntled grunts from seeing the main man, especially if the lash-up is skippered by a rising star willing to kill his mother to save his sterling record from being tarnished.

Today, sadly, too many of our top brass like Myers are out of touch with the bottom – the root cause of most bad organizations. That’s because these above-the-fray commanders aren’t leaders; they’re well-educated, pass-the-buck managers whose bottom line is to avoid any blame.

Leaders, on the other hand, live up to the job description. They take responsibility for the bottom line. They stand tall, and they lead.

I hold that things started falling apart when leaders who walked with their grunts, like Jim Gavin and “Chesty” Puller, were replaced by guys in a hurry. First the eager beavers distanced themselves from the troops by riding horses, then jeeps, then choppers, and now many try to command by laptop rather than shoe leather.

Our demoralized military is going to continue to have Fort Stewart-type problems and worse until our commanders finally realize that the welfare of the Joes and Jills sweating the mud and blood must come first.

The only way the top brass will ever stay in touch with their soldiers’ heads and hearts is by getting down and dirty and spending real time with their troops.

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