David Hackworth
30 July 1997


U.S Army senior leadership and a lousy Army hospital are on trial in a military court room in Panama this week -- even though Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Grogan is the one sitting in the dock.

This trial is not about justice, but about the sickness that is destroying our armed forces: political correctness over caring leadership and commanders covering their rears rather than doing the right thing by their soldiers.

Grogan is charged with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty in the March 4 death of 27 year old Special Operations Sergeant Edward Palacio.

As a leader, Grogan was faced with a disciplinary problem in his section when Palacio and another sergeant in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment failed in their assigned duties.

Grogen could have taken the easy way out and marched both offenders into the skipper, who would have thrown the book at them. But in today's one-strike-and-your-out-Army, they'd have been cashiered.

Grogan, a former Airborne/Ranger/Special Forces warrior and pilot in the Army's most intrepid aviation unit, applied NCO justice, which in the old Army was the way a junior leader handled such problems. With his skipper's permission, he fell the two elite warriors out, read them the riot act and said he was going to shape them up by taking them on a good run.

Anyone that's ever worn a pair of boots has been on the receiving end of such corrective discipline. I've run untold miles either as a private that goofed or as a leader squaring away subordinates who needed some up-close personal attention. But fortunately for me, no one died on my runs, even though I had my share of heat casualties hit the deck.

Grogan wasn't so lucky. After running 4.5 miles at a 10.5 mile pace in 91 degree weather, Palacio -- who had run two miles in 15 minutes on his physical fitness test four months before -- said he could run no further.

Grogan, said "We'll walk the remaining mile." After 100 yards, Palacio staggered. Grogan immediately put him in the shade, dowsed him with water and five minutes later, with a paramedic at Palacio's side, had him in a vehicle en route to Gorgas Army Hospital. Grogan's medical treatment was timely, spot-on and by the book.

In the Emergency Room at Gorgas, at which point experts say "with proper care" Palacio had "a 90 percent survival rate," the medics leisurely filled out bureaucratic forms instead of immediately applying critical basic 101 lifesaving heat casualty intervention.

The Panamanian doctor who attended Palacio had never treated heatstroke and was as slack as his ER medics. When he allowed vital hours to pass without providing the timely and proper medical treatment that would have saved Palacio's life, the sergeant's fate was sealed.

Over a 15 year period, medics at the Marines' Parris Island's Boot Camp have treated 250 heatstroke cases in temperatures up to 110 degrees, and they have yet to lose their first trainee.

Dr. Michael Bray, a forensic pathologist, says the doctor was "negligent" and because of this Palacio "could not be saved."

So Grogan didn't kill Palacio, poor medical treatment did. A doctor and fumbling medics in an inept, non-accredited Army hospital with a long record of medical screw ups are those who should take the hit for Palecio's death, not one of our country's most dedicated soldiers.

Generals Patton, Gavin and Ridgway must all be spinning in their graves over a senior leader that allowed this court martial to proceed over the findings of an investigating officer who said that the "prosecution had presented no evidence to show that death from a run was foreseeable."

Lawson Magruder, the very general responsible for the hospital -- which, according to Panama-based legal officers has the worst medical claim record in the U.S. Army -- and therefore the person ultimately responsible for Palacio's death, went out of his way to nail Grogan. On 13 April, he ordered his lawyers to "ensure charges are preferred against" Grogan.

He ended his memo with this cheerleader bit of hype: "Proud of the great Army South team (U.S. Army - Panama). We're about ready to punch the PR (Public Relations) football across the goal line..."

Yeah, sure, General Magruder, over the body of one of America's finest warriors.