Guard hospital unit to fade away It's stupid to shut down unit, Schaefer says.

May 15, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The Sun yesterday reported incorrectly the date the Pentagon has proposed to shut down the Maryland Army National Guard's 136th Combat Support Hospital. The correct date is August 1993.

The Sun regrets the errors.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Nurse Lenore Scharf said it was simply awful. Gen. James F. Fretterd thought it was almost un-American. Gov. William Donald Schaefer called it stupid.

They are talking about a Pentagon decision to shut down the Maryland Army National Guard's 136th Combat Support Hospital August 1993.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The 300-member unit has some of the best medical talent available, drawing on Maryland's famous Shock Trauma Center, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Sinai, Sacred Heart and other hospitals in Maryland.

In all, the Guard in Maryland would lose 735 men and women if current plans are not changed. And, since Maryland was not hit as hard as some other states, it could lose as many as 1,000 more positions as Guard headquarters in Washington tries to equalize the budget-cutting impact.

If the decision is not reversed -- and no one thought it would be -- Maryland will lose $2.4 million in pay and other economic activity generated by the Guard which is paid for by the federal government.

Governor Schaefer, who flew here yesterday to drum up support for the unit, said the state's loss would go beyond money.

In wartime, the mobile unit treats casual ties in combat zones. In peacetime, it can deploy to handle "mass casualty" situations -- riots, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes.

So the governor, the general and the trauma nurse lined up yesterday to dramatize their conviction that, once again, headquarters doesn't know what it's doing.

They took reporters on a tour of mobile hospital tents where, ironically, guardsmen were working with millions of dollars worth of brand new heart monitors and other state-of-the-art operating room equipment that the unit received just before it learned it would be disbanded.

"I've been with this unit 17 years," said Maj. Elsa Interior of Perry Hall, a 41-year-old-nurse who works full-time at the Loch Raven Veterans Administration Hospital. "We've never had equipment like this before."

So, of course, the brass in Washington says the 136th is finished.

As commander of Maryland's Guard and the state's highest-ranking citizen soldier, General Fretterd found himself in delicate situation: soldiers may think higher-ups are clueless but they aren't supposed to say so.

The general, though, wasn't holding back much.

"I have 41 years in the Guard. I hate to see it emasculated. I just don't see the logic of what they're doing," he said.

When the Founding Fathers talked about citizen-soldiers, he added, they were thinking about the National Guard.

Governor Schaefer was even more direct.

"Our government sometimes is so stupid. We have all these people who are so highly trained and [Congress] wants to shut 'em down."

Though Mr. Schaefer has billions of dollars worth of experience handling complaints from victims of budget cuts, he insisted this was different: the unit will be needed over time -- but the talent will be gone.

"The 136th is the best unit I've ever worked with here," said Lt. Col. Joyce M. Jolly, chief of nursing education at Womack Army Hospital.

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