Thursday, July 21, 2005

This Makes No Sense

This reporter provides anecdotal evidence of good morale among our troops in Iraq:

Again and again, from "white-collar" soldiers working in the relative safety of Camp Victory at the Baghdad airport to the "real" soldiers patrolling Route Irish (a.k.a the "Highway of Death"), I heard that America and their Iraqi-army allies are winning the war against the insurgents. I was told again and again by the soldiers themselves that their (our) cause is just, the strategy is working, and the enemy they fight represents evil itself.

Sure, this could be propaganda somehow engineered by the Pentagon, but re-enlistment is running at a good clip--especially for combat veterans--which is another sign that our soldiers are confident in their casue and in their progress toward victory. Strategypage writes:

Troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to reenlist. Some of this is due to higher re-enlistment bonuses, but those re-enlisting (and 35 percent of them do it in a combat zone) often say they believe strongly in what they are doing, and that’s why they volunteer to keep doing it. By the end of the year, the army expects to get 4,000 more re-enlistments than it expected. A disproportionate number of these are coming from combat troops, which is very helpful.

Troop morale looks pretty good with these factors in mind. So what am I to make of this report? It says our troop morale--according to an Army study--is bad and getting worse:

The report said 54 percent of soldiers rated their units' morale as low or very low. The comparable figure in a year-earlier Army survey was 72 percent. Although respondents said "combat stressors" like mortar attacks were higher in the most recent survey, "noncombat stressors" like uncertain tour lengths were much lower, the report said.

How does this fit with the earlier stories? And if the talks with troops showing positive attitudes was rigged, why not rig the study? And why does the same study show mental health problems lower as well as a lower suicide rate for in-theater troops?

Well let me apply my limited rear echelon, reservist experience. I volunteered to serve. I did it out of a sense of duty and shipped off to basic training after I'd finished a year of grad school. I went to signal school after I graduated with a MA in history. When I was at Fort Gordon, I remember that just about every day as I stood in line under the already hot sun early in the morning ready to board a bus to go to 31Q classes, I would just ponder what the hell I was doing there. Good God, this is misery! I'm away from home and I'm bored, and I'd really like to look for a job. But no, I'm sweating already and it's early, and I've been up since before light. AND MY DAY IS JUST BEGINNING! I had a calendar on my locker where I checked off the days (My drill sergeant exclaimed, "Dunn, are you eager to get out of here?!" "Yes I am, drill sergeant!").

But I was nonetheless proud to be there. It wasn't fun. I'd rather have been home. And I was eager to get it over with.

But I worked hard and though it may have looked like my morale was low, I was proud to be where I was and wouldn't have changed that for the world. Look, I know I was in Georgia and not Iraq. My experience is but a dim reflection of what troops in a war zone must feel--even the vast majority who live safely in our base camps. I can't know what they feel. But the conclusion of low morale doesn't fit all the facts. My military experience may be trifling, but I think it helps explain the apparent gaps in facts. As the saying goes, it's a soldier's right to complain.

Our troops seem to be holding up just fine. As long as we continue to do so back home, they'll win this war for us and come home justifiably proud of their service.

And if we work this right, with more total brigades to rotate fewer brigades through Iraq, the stress on the Army and Marines will dissipate, leaving a combat-seasoned force that will scare potential enemies.