August 20, 2008, Fort Sill, OK – An Army social services coordinator here who told USA TODAY about poor conditions at Fort Sill’s unit for wounded soldiers has been forced out of his job, the employee and base officials said Tuesday.
Soldiers meeting with Army Secretary Pete Geren here on Tuesday said Chuck Roeder, 54, was a strong advocate for their problems and should not have been forced to leave.
On Monday, USA TODAY reported that the unit’s barracks were infested with mold and that soldiers had been ordered by commanders not to speak about conditions there. Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, Fort Sill’s commander, said base officials had started to investigate. The health of our soldiers is a priority afterall.
Roeder was hired at Fort Sill in January. He contacted USA TODAY in July about problems at Fort Sill, which were confirmed by more than 20 soldiers.
Roeder’s departure Friday, following his contact with USA TODAY, was purely coincidental, said Col. Sam White, an executive officer at Fort Sill. He said Roeder has a history of confrontations with base officials.
“They can say whatever they want to say, but they’re not being truthful,” Roeder said. “I stand up for soldiers. I’m sure the word got out that I’d encouraged soldiers to speak.”
Roeder, a retired soldier, said he was told to resign or he would be fired.
Geren, who was at Fort Sill for a previously scheduled visit, said he would look into Roeder’s case but that it was difficult to manage hirings and firings from his office in Washington.
“Chuck’s been there for us many times,” said Sgt. Willard Barnett, 51, and an Iraq war veteran. “I know for a fact that he saved a couple of soldiers’ lives. Chuck was there for them and helped them get through a rough time.”
Geren said Tuesday that the Army’s 35 Warrior Transition Units were a “work in progress” and that the service was working hard to fix problems. The Army created the units last year after revelations of poor conditions and bureaucratic problems at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Fort Sill’s unit houses 142 patients; there are about 12,000 soldiers in such units nationwide.