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[casi] Troop Moral

from the July 07, 2003 edition -

Troop morale in Iraq hits 'rock bottom'

Soldiers stress is a key concern as the Army ponders
whether to send more forces.  By Ann Scott Tyson | Special
to The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON - US troops facing extended deployments amid
the danger, heat, and uncertainty of an Iraq occupation
are suffering from low morale that has in some cases hit
"rock bottom."

Even as President Bush speaks of a "massive and long-term"
undertaking in rebuilding Iraq, that effort, as well as
the high tempo of US military operations around the globe,
is taking its toll on individual troops.

Some frustrated troops stationed in Iraq are writing
letters to representatives in Congress to request their
units be repatriated.  "Most soldiers would empty their
bank accounts just for a plane ticket home," said one
recent Congressional letter written by an Army soldier now
based in Iraq.  The soldier requested anonymity.

In some units, there has been an increase in letters from
the Red Cross stating soldiers are needed at home, as well
as daily instances of female troops being sent home due to

"Make no mistake, the level of morale for most soldiers
that I've seen has hit rock bottom," said another soldier,
an officer from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

Such open grumbling among troops comes as US commanders
reevaluate the size and composition of the US-led
coalition force needed to occupy Iraq.  US Central
Command, which is leading the occupation, is expected by
mid-July to send a proposal to Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld on how many and what kind of troops are required,
as well as on the rotation of forces there.

For soldiers, a life on the road

The rethink about troop levels comes as senior military leaders voice
concern that multiple deployments around the world are already taxing the
endurance of US forces, the Army in particular.  Some 370,000 soldiers
are now deployed overseas from an Army active-duty, guard, and reserve
force of just over 1 million people, according to Army figures.

Experts warn that long, frequent deployments could lead to
a rash of departures from the military.  "Hordes of
active-duty troops and reservists may soon leave the
service rather than subject themselves to a life
continually on the road," writes Michael O'Hanlon, a
military expert at the Brookings Institution here.

A major Army study is now under way to examine the impact
of this high pace of operations on the mental health of
soldiers and families.  "The cumulative effect of these
work hours and deployment and training are big issues, and
soldiers are concerned about it," says Col.  Charles Hoge,
who is leading the survey of 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers for
the Walter Reed Institute of Army Research.

Concern over stressed troops is not new.  In the late
1990s, a shrinking of military manpower combined with a
rise in overseas missions prompted Congress to call for
sharp pay increases for troops deployed over a certain
number of days.

"But then came September 11 and the operational tempo went
off the charts" and the Congressional plan was suspended,
according to Ed Bruner, an expert on ground forces at the
Congressional Research Service here.

Adding manpower to the region Despite Pentagon statements
before the war that the goal of US forces was to
"liberate, not occupy" Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld warned
last week that the war against terrorists in Iraq and
elsewhere "will not be over any time soon."

Currently, there are some 230,000 US troops serving in and

[Gee whiz! For only about $8million we buy every one of them a 6-month
subscription to The Nation <G>]

around Iraq, including nearly 150,000 US troops inside
Iraq and 12,000 from Britain and other countries.
According to the Pentagon, the number of foreign troops is
expected to rise to 20,000 by September.  Fresh foreign
troops began flowing into Iraq this month, part of two
multinational forces led by Poland and Britain.  A third
multinational force is also under consideration.

A crucial factor in determining troop levels are the daily
attacks that have killed more than 30 US and British
servicemen in Iraq since Mr. Bush declared on May 1 that
major combat operations had ended.

The unexpected degree of resistance led the Pentagon to
increase US ground troops in Iraq to mount a series of
ongoing raids aimed at confiscating weapons and capturing
opposition forces.

A tour of duty with no end in sight As new US troops
flowed into Iraq, others already in the region for several
months, such as the 20,000-strong 3rd Infantry Division
were retained in Iraq.

"Faced with continued resistance, Department of Defense
now plans to keep a larger force in Iraq than anticipated
for a period of time," Maj. Gen. Buford Blount,
commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, explained in a
statement to families a month ago.  "I appreciate the
turmoil and stress that a continued deployment has
caused," he added.

The open-ended deployments in Iraq are lowering morale
among some ground troops, who say constantly shifting time
tables are reducing confidence in their leadership.  "The
way we have been treated and the continuous lies told to
our families back home has devastated us all," a soldier
in Iraq wrote in a letter to Congress.

Security threats, heat, harsh living conditions, and, for
some soldiers, waiting and boredom have gradually eroded
spirits.  An estimated 9,000 troops from the 3rd Infantry
Division - most deployed for at least six months and some
for more than a year - have been waiting for several
weeks, without a mission, to return to the United States,
officers say.

In one Army unit, an officer described the mentality of
troops.  "They vent to anyone who will listen.  They write
letters, they cry, they yell.  Many of them walk around
looking visibly tired and depressed....  We feel like
pawns in a game that we have no voice [in]."

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