November 29, 2003
Bush Reports "Morale is High" While Heros in Iraq Disagree

After spending 2.5 hours with a few carefully screened members of the armed forces at Iraq International Airport Bush stated "I'm pleased to report back from the front lines that our troops are strong, morale is high and our military is confident we will prevail," he said.

He may have missed the reports last month in the Stars and Stripes based on polls of US soldiers serving in Iraq. The trip and the spin that has been fed to the American Public since the trip are disingenuous.

From August 10 to August 31, three teams of Stars & Stripesreporters surveyed 1,935 military personnel in Iraq, observed first-hand the conditions they were living under, and conducted a number of interviews. The paper, which is independently edited, though partially funded by the Pentagon, was given unparalleled access to US troops. Its reporters visited nearly 50 camps, ranging from major bases to relatively isolated outposts.

The survey consisted of 17 questions, which asked troops to assess their living conditions, quality of health care, commanders and morale. It also asked for written responses to questions on whether their mission had changed since arriving in Iraq, how they felt the Iraq war compared to previous US conflicts, and what, short of sending them home, could commanders do to improve their morale. The final question was whether they felt the complaints by rank-and-file soldiers about morale were justified. Many American soldiers have publicly criticized the length of their deployment to Iraq or the war itself.

In response to the question, “How worthwhile do you think fighting this war was for America?,” 50 percent indicated doubts over the justifications for the invasion. Nineteen percent selected the conditional answer that the war was “probably worthwhile” and 20 percent of troops answered that the war was of “little value,” while 11 percent damned it as “not worthwhile at all.” Only 28 percent responded that it was “very worthwhile” and another 20 percent that it was “worthwhile.”

Thirty-five percent answered that they were either “mostly unclear” or “not clear at all” about why they were in Iraq. A National Guardsman wrote: “In past wars...it seemed as though everyone had a ‘known’ mission. We’re in the dark.” A 21-year-old regular Army infantryman told the reporters: “A lot of the stuff we’re doing here doesn’t make any sense at all. Now that we’ve been lied to, we don’t trust anyone.” One soldier, whose friend was killed, referred to the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction and said: “I just don’t see what we’re doing here that would justify losing someone like Herbert.”

With the White House claiming that the US has liberated Iraq and that things are going well, only 16 percent of troops rated their unit’s morale as “very high” or “high.” Forty-nine percent rated it as “low” or “very low.” Citing military sociologist Charles Moskos, Stars & Stripes noted that “belief in the cause for which one is fighting is one of the most overlooked aspects of morale.”

To the question, “How do you rate your personal morale?,” 15 percent answered “very low” and 19 percent “low.” Just 8 percent chose “very high” and 19 percent “high,” with 37 percent choosing “average.” Soldiers consistently ranked their personal morale as higher than the ranking they chose for their unit. Stars & Stripescommented: “Troops may wish to report what they perceive to be the true morale situation without getting themselves into trouble, a way of saying ‘I’m OK, but the unit’s not.’”

nother Army reservist wrote on his survey: “I strongly believe that the current administration is more concerned with re-election politics and less on doing the right thing. After this whole ordeal is over, I think you’ll see the ranks of the Army Reserve decimated.” The Defense Department has already been forced to admit that reserve recruitment and re-enlistment is “soft.”

Overall, 49 percent of the respondents in Iraq indicated they intended to leave the military as soon as possible. Only 18 percent said it was “very likely” they would remain.

Some soldiers, however, particularly non-commissioned officers and skilled technicians, are re-enlisting in order to get out of Iraq. One Army helicopter pilot signed up for another term after he was offered an $11,000 bonus and 18 months in Korea, because “at least I’m getting out of here.” An Army sergeant re-enlisted as a recruiter, because in that position he could not be deployed overseas for three years and would leave Iraq before the end of the year. Another signed up for a four-year, guaranteed assignment in Alaska, where he was “hoping for a little bit of a breather.”

Posted by tstubbs at November 29, 2003 09:40 PM
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