FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Visiting just before Veterans Day, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told Fort Stewart soldiers Monday the government has a moral obligation to provide better health care and housing to sick reservists.
Jackson arrived at the Army post three weeks after sick and injured reservists here complained bitterly about living in barracks without air-conditioning or indoor toilets while waiting weeks or months for medical appointments.
"Given how bountiful and rich our country is, I find it despicable," Jackson told a group of about a dozen soldiers outside a clinic on Fort Stewart. "America can do much better than that."
But the barracks Jackson toured Monday with Fort Stewart commanders were empty.
The 614 National Guard and Army Reserve troops on "medical hold," meaning they're too sick for regular duties but don't require hospitalization, have been moved to nearby hotels or are sharing barracks with active-duty soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.
Fort Stewart opened a new clinic two weeks ago specifically to treat reservists. And 50 of the citizen-soldiers have been moved to Fort Gordon in Augusta, home of the Army's Southeast Regional Medical Command.
"We no longer have any of those soldiers housed in that area," Col. John Kidd, the post's garrison commander, said of the spartan barracks that sparked so many complaints. "Hotels are pretty expensive, so we're receiving some additional money."
Asked about changes the Army has made, Jackson said they came too late - and only after the sick reservists complained.
"The military is known for its logistical planning ... but not for our soldiers," said Jackson, an opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. "The first plan was to do the bombing, but there was no planning for the wounded and injured."
Fort Stewart's hospital became bogged down with a flood of patients after 16,500 active-duty troops from the 3rd Infantry Division returned home from Iraq at the end of the summer.
About two-thirds of the reservists on medical hold at Fort Stewart had deployed with their units to Iraq, but just over a dozen suffered war wounds. The rest suffer a range of conditions from sprained ankles to stomach pains.
Jackson said he planned to appeal to Congress and President Bush to allocate funding for better military housing and expanded medical facilities.
Fort Stewart officials have maintained since the flap over reservists' treatment erupted three weeks ago that they did the best they could with what they had. The concrete-block barracks are still being used by healthy reservists training on post for deployment overseas.
And Kidd said some reservists on medical hold didn't want to leave them, either, and the face the inconvenience of commuting from a hotel to the post.
"A lot of them preferred not to move," Kidd said. "But you know, the Army's not big on choices."
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