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General fired from Walter Reed to head Fort Detrick

| The Associated Press,0,567945.story

HAGERSTOWN - The two-star general who was fired as the head of Walter Reed Army Medical Center amid reports of shoddy treatment of wounded soldiers has regained favor and will oversee U.S. biological weapons defense research as commander of Fort Detrick in Frederick, the Army said today.

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, a physician currently assigned to the Army surgeon general's office in Falls Church, Va., will command both Fort Detrick and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command headquartered there, Department of the Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

Cynthia Vaughan, spokeswoman for the army surgeon general's office, said the change of command would probably occur later this month. Col. Jonathan Jaffin has been Fort Detrick's acting commander since March 3.

When Weightman was fired from the Army's flagship hospital March 1, the Army said senior officials "had lost trust and confidence" in his leadership abilities. Boyce said Army leaders changed their minds after reviewing Weightman's efforts at Walter Reed and in the surgeon general's office to improve care of soldiers, veterans and their families.

For instance, during Weightman's brief tenure at Walter Reed, the ratio of staff to soldiers improved from one-to-125 to one-to-25 or 30, Boyce said.

"The U.S. Army leadership has reviewed senior leadership responsibility and accountability surrounding the care of soldiers and family at Walter Reed ... and they have confidence in Gen. Weightman's ability to command the U.S. Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick," Boyce said.

He added that Weightman, 56, "has been held in high esteem all along by the military medical community."

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he was troubled by the announcement because Weightman's firing was assumed to have ruined his chances for another prominent command post.

"The way Walter Reed turned out should be a career killer," Rieckhoff said. "If Weightman's getting a second chance here, I think the Army needs to explain why the turnaround happened."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she was "puzzled that someone associated with the management fiasco at Walter Reed would be given this new assignment."

Mikulski said she plans to discuss Weightman's new assignment with both him and Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, whose appointment as Army surgeon general was confirmed by the Senate Thursday.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said he also plans to meet with Weightman "to discuss his vision for the future" of Fort Detrick.

Weightman was replaced at Walter Reed by Schoomaker, who until then had held the Fort Detrick leadership posts.

The Pentagon has recently softened its tone in public remarks about the Walter Reed scandal. In September, the top Pentagon health officer, Dr. S. Ward Casscells, said the military's medical community "got a black eye that we didn't completely deserve."

Weightman had been at Walter Reed six months when The Washington Post began publishing stories in February about recovering soldiers languishing in dilapidated housing and their families complaining of inattentive administrators. The disclosures also forced the resignations of then Army Secretary Francis Harvey and then Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley.

In April, an independent review group co-chaired by former Army secretaries John O. "Jack" Marsh and Togo D. West found that money problems and Pentagon neglect were to blame for many of the problems at Walter Reed.

In an interview with reporters two days before the first Post story was published, Weightman acknowledged shortcomings at Walter Reed but also said the problems were magnified because of the hospital's location in the nation's capital. He said being in Washington made it easier for complaining patients and their families to draw the interest of members of Congress.

Weightman was the highest-ranking Army general to be sacked since Gen. Kevin Byrnes was dismissed as commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command in 2005 for an alleged adulterous affair.

Weightman visited Fort Detrick Nov. 3 to sign the Army Family Covenant, a document acknowledging a $1.4 billion increase on spending for family programs.