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Wednesday | July 16, 2003

Why the complaints matter

By Steve Gilliard

Soldiers, as a rule, especially combat infantrymen, take pride in their stoic nature. After all, you have to volunteer to be an 11 Bravo, so you can't blame fate if you're walking point in some third world hellhole. You have to choose it. Same with Marines. No one makes you be an infantryman in today's army.

But it's not the Roman Legion. You don't sign your life away. You are deployed for a few months and then come home. The problem is not that the soldiers don't like the heat or even the Iraqis. They're professionals and they chose this life. Liking all aspects of it is not on the enlistment contract.

The problem is that the soliders seem to have lost all faith in their leadership. Not just at the national level, but at the command level as well. They trust their junior officers, but that's it. They no longer seem to believe their leaders are honest nor do they trust them to act in their own best interest. They don't believe in the mission or the men who ordered them to carry it out. They are coming to believe that their only goal is survival.

Rotation is always an issue and extending the tours like this just rips the basic trust between soldier and commander. Soldiers will always complain about conditions, as would anyone else thrust into the middle of Iraq in summer. But what seems to be growing, and deeply disturbing, is that soldiers now seem to have begun to mistrust their leaders.

Something is breaking, at least in the 3ID. A bond of trust which is essential for any organization to function. These men and women increasingly expect to be lied to and deceived by the people they need to trust. Their families are irate at this.

And there is no ready replacement for them.

What goes unsaid is that many of these soldiers will not be coming home to happy families, but fed up, divorcing wives. It happened in the Gulf War, and it will happen again. More than one 3ID soldier will face a pregnant wife or simply divorce papers, held off until he or she returns. The Iraq War is not just trapping them in a hostile country, but destroying their families as well. Wives and husbands who could tolerate a six month deployment may well find a year too hard to bear. It may just be easier to be with someone else, someone who is home and won't get killed or injured in Iraq.

A Big Letdown

The sergeant at the 2nd Battle Combat Team Headquarters pulled me aside in the corridor. "I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list," he told me.

He was referring to the deck of cards the U.S. government published, featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons and other wanted members of the former Iraqi regime.

"The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz," he said.

He was referring to the four men who are running U.S. policy here in Iraq the four men who are ultimately responsible for the fate of U.S. troops here.

.............

"If Donald Rumsfeld were sitting here in front of us, what would you say to him?" I asked a group of soldiers who gathered around a table, eager to talk to a visiting reporter.

"If he was here," said Pfc. Jason Punyahotra, "I would ask him why we're still here, why we've been told so many times and it's changed."

In the back of the group, Spc. Clinton Deitz put up his hand. "If Donald Rumsfeld was here," he said, "I'd ask him for his resignation."

Normally, soldiers do not comment on their leaders implying they're incompetent for public consumption. But the fact that these guys are past caring is not a good thing. Their desire to come home is like sandpaper, it grinds and wears down on their ability to do their job to the point they will eventually become ineffective.

Faith-based military planning doesn't work either.

Update: Gen. John Abizaid, new CENTCOM commander, was none too happy about the comments of the 3ID soldiers. He suggested that some of them may receive some kind of punishment, which, of course, would be like pouring gas on a raging fire.

This is hardly a new issue. Soldiers always feel that they have done their share, especially the infantry. But what do you expect them to say when they're being told their leaders are lying to them. They hear it every day on the BBC. They're no longer relying on DOD news sources only. They're not stupid.

It's amazing that he would pick a fight with Army wives and Congress over the obvious. Whatever plan they had, ain't working. The morale of the 3ID is reaching late 1968 levels in weeks. ABC News says they think there have been five suicides in Iraq so far, numbers the Pentagon does not want to give out. The Army has no answers, the DOD is indifferent to their fate. Even the casual observer has to be deeply concerned about the level and intensity of dissatisfaction.

It has to be said again, the soldiers are not pissed about being in Iraq, per se, but not having any idea of when they can come home. Combined with the hostility and danger, the 3ID may just be having temporary problems, or they may start to be showing the real signs of combat stress.

Posted July 16, 2003 12:38 PM





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