September 05, 2008
Military.com|by Bryant Jordan
In Iraq right now, a corporal who lost his leg below the knee in
combat last year is back on the job.
And Cpl. Garrett Jones of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, isn't the only
service member to stay on active duty after sustaining the kind of
wound or injury that not long ago would have meant a medical
discharge. Three years ago Capt. David Rozelle of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment - also wearing a prosthetic leg - became the first
Soldier to return to active duty with such a handicap.
According to the Pentagon, more than 60 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines
and Airmen who have lost limbs have said thanks but no thanks to the
medical separation and the monthly disability payments that would
have followed them into civilian life.
And one of them - a below-the-knee amputee who is about to go for the
gold at the Paralympics in Beijing starting on Sept. 6 -- believes
the time has come for the military to consider enlisting people who
already have these kinds of injuries.
"Most of the guys I compete against are all people that were born
that way - either missing a limb or with whatever disability they
have," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Casey Tibbs, a cryptologic
technician interpreter and track and field athlete who in 2004 became
the first active-duty service member to compete in the Paralympic
games. In addition to winning gold in the men's 4x100-meter relay,
Tibbs, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, won a silver medal
in the pentathlon.
"We have a guy on our team -- his name is Jeff Skiba -- who is
missing his leg just like me, who was born like that," Tibbs said.
"He high-jumps over seven feet."
"I mean, of course he could serve," Tibbs said during a roundtable
interview with military bloggers last month. "It makes no sense with
today's technology that they wouldn't be able to serve just because
of their disability."
The idea of recruiting disabled people for the military is an old one
in Israel, where the policy does two things: it frees up the more
able-bodied to do the physically demanding duties while also giving
citizens who are disabled - even those in wheelchairs - the
opportunity to contribute to the county's defense.
Earlier this year, in fact, Israeli President Shimon Peres honored
Israel's active-duty disabled troops, remarking that, "A society that
does not know how to treat its disabled is a disabled society." The
head of the Israeli Defense Forces' personnel branch, meanwhile,
called those troops "a living example of victory, enlistment and
contribution to the State."
But it's not likely that the United States will be targeting the
disabled for recruitment any time soon.
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said there currently are no plans
to change Defense Department accession criteria. While each service
sets its own, she said, the requirements are intended to ensure that
recruits are "qualified, effective and able-bodied persons" who are
able to successfully carry out a wide range of military duties that
include exposure to danger, emotional stress, harsh environments and
the operation of dangerous, sensitive or classified equipment that
are not usually found in civilian jobs.
"Further, the position of the Services is that all military members
must be available for worldwide duty 24 hours a day without
restriction or delay," she wrote in an Aug. 20 email. "This duty may
be in remote areas lacking immediate and comprehensive medical support."
The fact that the military already has, in some respects, lowered
standards to meet annual recruiting goals in recent years would seem
to give a boost to some disabled who might like to serve. But in the
Army, where recruiting has been toughest, it is less likely to sign
up already-disabled recruits, said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant
secretary of defense during the Reagan administration and currently a
senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.
The Army requires its uniformed personnel to be able to perform as
combat soldiers if necessary, he said, and that means being able to
carry required gear and perform physically at levels that a man or
woman with a disability may not meet.
The Marine Corps, for its part, has had less difficulty meeting its
The Navy and Air Force have a wider range of jobs not requiring a man
or woman to be completely physically able, he said, but even here
there has been no movement to recruit the disabled.
"The Army's view is that if you eliminate the Soldiering side of an
Army job, you should give it to a civilian," Korb said, "and keep
Army slots open to those who can meet the requirements demanded of Soldiers."