Is US Troop Morale in Iraq Deteriorating???

June 15, 2003

Comment:  #487

Discussion Threads - Comment #s: 484, 475, 372

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Attached References:

[Ref. 1] Steven Lee Myers, "Anxious and Weary of War, G.I.'s Face a New Iraq Mission," New York Times, June 15, 2003

The Army is getting bogged down in a morale-numbing 4th Generation War in Iraq that is now taking on some appearances of the Palestinian Intifada.

It is likely a large deployment of troops will be required for the indefinite future, notwithstanding the Administration's promises to the contrary. Rumor has it that the Army's personnel management czars are about to reinvent the thoroughly discredited individual replacement system to rotate people through the units stationed in Iraq. This rotation system, as many readers know, had disastrous effects on morale and American lives in Vietnam - indeed, the opening scenes of the movie Platoon portray poignantly the debilitating psychology of isolation, mistrust, and vulnerability that are experienced by the individual replacement (Charlie Sheen) as he enters a battle hardened unit.

What is becoming a semi-permanent mobilization of Reserve and National Guard troops is adding fuel to the fires torching the Army's personnel system. Some officers have told me privately they believe the Army's personnel system will melt down in about 9 to 12 months as returning active duty soldiers leave the Army and reservists refuse to renew their contracts.

Perhaps their predictions are overly alarmist, but it certainly behooves prudent planners and political leaders to carefully monitor the changing state of morale in our forces.

This blaster presents two early portraits of what could be a continuing story of morale decline in Iraq. In Ref 1 below, Steven Myers of the New York Times describes some of the morale conditions now afflicting the 3rd Infantry Division. Attached directly below is something more important, in my opinion: a letter from Captain XXX, who is currently assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq.

Note particularly Capt XXX's references to how leaders and headquarters staffs (aka REMFs or Rear Area Mother!*$#/'s ) are living in palaces with swimming pools and air conditioning and are NOT sharing the head, dust, hardships, and other burdens of the front line troops.

War is more about character more than the budget-busting technological revolutions so popular in Versailles on on Potomac. And ... there there is, unfortunately, nothing new about Capt XXX's observations. In the words a retired Army officer with three combat tours in Vietnam, "I made the same observation with similar disgust in Vietnam. I didn't find out about the plush rear echelon life in Vietnam until the end of the war and I went to Bien Hoa to be the Secretary of Region V, 4 Party Joint Military Commission, where we discussed the table seating arrangements with the North Vietnamese for two months. Air conditioned houses, trailers; 7 course meals served by young women in ao gais. Movies every night. No wonder the REMFs were so out of touch with reality!"

As in Vietnam, we had overwhelming technical supremacy in Iraq, but that supremacy did not connect leaders at home with what was really happening in-country. So forewarned is forearmed: a rerun of the leadership/REMF pathologies experienced in Vietnam does not bode well for the future.

Iraqi Sitrep: Letter from Captain XXX
[Capt XXX is now a small unit commander in the 4th Infantry Division]

10 May 2003

I'm taking command of a [XXX], I would much rather have a line company, but I don't get much of a choice on this one. Yep, I'd rather be out playing in the field on a tank any day than sitting around a base camp doing who knows what. We just occupied an airfield by force. It's much nicer than our old location (dirt field) because it has pavement and not nearly as much sand blowing in everything from our clothes to our equipment. Its not fun sleeping in a sleeping bag filled with sand. Let me give you an example of what the sand is like, but first a little background. We are in Bayji, Iraq, which is about 60 km north of Tikrit, which is about 80 km north of Bagdad.

It is much cooler up here than it is south of Bagdad, only 95 F average in May so far. It is very dry and windy. The dirt is hard packed unless you drive on it, and then it will crumble. We are only about 10 km west of the Tigres River. The bugs are annoying, I watched as 10 flies carried away my MRE dinner tonight, and I was happy because I got the spoon with the food on it to my mouth before they could get to it. It's the little things that make us happy.

OK, so here is the description of how bad the sand is: Take a hundred bottles of baby powder, dump them on the ground in 1 spot so they make about 6 inches of baby powder. Now walk in the baby powder.. .and watch the powder rise into the air. Now imagine yourself eating as someone walks through the baby powder right next to you, or better yet, imagine trying to take a "shower" as a HMMWV is driving past you in the baby powder.

The good news is that it isn't that bad at the airfield, because we are occupying on pavement or right next to pavement. We have spent many hours cleaning up blown up and looted airfield hangers and buildings so that we can use them as offices. We have been here a week and the buildings are still not prepared for us to occupy them. The reason we want to occupy the buildings is because it is about 20 degrees cooler in the buildings than in a tent. At noon, the tents feel like a sauna in the tents, and its better to be outside than in a tent, but I'm sure you are familiar with that sensation.

Our FBCB2 systems are holding up well. It is amazing that they made it off the boats in perfect condition, and even more amazing that they are functioning so well. The only thing I would like to see improved on the FBCB2 is the processing speed. I am not sure that a voice activated command would work on vehicles. A HMMWV is loud, a tank is much louder. Heck, you have to yell to be heard in a HMMWV when it is moving. Not a bad idea for dismounted troops though. I really like the system, and the fact that you can find anyone you really need to find on it. From a loggie point of view, I can find all kinds of interesting units that really don't want to be found...

I believe that the Army logistics system here was broken from the start.

We have been here for 40 days and haven't received a single part to fix broken vehicles. The good news is that we supplied the Iraqis with American equipment during the Iran war in 1982. I've looted many Special Republican Guard barracks (there is a 30 km stretch of SRG barracks between us and Tikrit) for Browning .50 Cals, in perfect condition, literally still in packing grease. We also found a stock pile of M-113s. Unfortunately, no Ml tank parts, so we drove 16 hours to Camp Doha in Kuwait and TOOK some parts from a warehouse there.

The Army supply system has given us MREs and water, but nothing else. We have had 3 semi warm T ration meals since we have been here. Thank goodness that the Army was wise enough to improve our MREs. They are actually pretty good now.

Our communications equipment are substandard and cannot handle the distances we are separated even with retrans. We have no DNVT support and no signal assets with the battalion. Everybody else does, but not us, we are too far north. I must caveat that by saying that every other unit here has access to email and the internet except us. So for units that are close to the signal assets, life is good.

Our DIV HQ occupied a palace complex in Tikrit complete with swimming pool, man- made lake and 8 different palaces with air conditioning for all the soldiers. All the units located with the DIV HQ have posted operating hours! The finance unit doesn't even work on Sundays! I have a hard time understanding why our senior ranking officers are not taking care of all the units and are so focused on taking care of themselves. I'm just not impressed.

The CG [commanding general] came to see us once for 15 minutes and never came back. Our brigade commander is a great guy, and I respect him. He came out to see us and ordered us to move to the airfield that we are currently occupying. It was a little risky, but he knew we needed to improve our living standards. A few years back, everyone was doing studies about the officer corps and why officers were leaving (I recall one by a guy named Wong that was right on the money).

Well, my overall impression is that the COLs and above only care about themselves and making sure that they are living well. I believe that they think if they are living well, then everyone else is living well, because they never leave their cushy palaces to see the real fighters and killers.

The only thing I can do about all of that is try to improve what's in my tiny sandbox. I continue to believe that once an officer makes the rank of Major, he receives a frontal lobotomy courtesy of the Army. I have no desire to be a Major in this army, and I'm looking forward to commanding a company or two without the risk of ruining a career. [Capt X is saying he is mission oriented and is not worried that this orientation will ruin his career because he intends to leave the Army]

Lucky for me that I'm in good with my boss! I know that I don't see the whole picture, but some of the things that go on here just boggle my mind.

I know that 3ACR is here. They are somewhere in Western Iraq, I also know that 1AD [1st Armord Division] is enroute here. Rumor has it that they will eventually replace us. [Note: this officer is in 4th Infantry Division but in Ref 1, Steven Myers says 1AD will replace 3rd Infantry Division.] Don't ask me how or when. Heard through the grapevine that Donald Rumsfeld fired the SEC Army, wants an AF guy to be the next big wig and is going to downsize us by 2 divisions. Guess he doesn't like us. Also heard that 1AD will not return to Germany, and that we are in the process of closing a lot of bases in Germany. That won't help in terms of our invasion of France which must be up next on the hit list, right behind Syria.

Thinking about a job with a FEMA DART team after command. I figure that I'm superbly qualified on the basis of 3 deployments involving peacekeeping and maybe a little combat, most of which revolves around stabilizing regions in terms of government and infrastructure. Don't know much about FEMA or the Disaster Relief program yet, but I'll look into it when I get back. All I know is that I can't sell anything. Was never good at it, and I don't like it.

Gotta get some sleep, tell all that everyone out here is doing just fine.

Capt XXX

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

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Reference 1

June 15, 2003

Anxious and Weary of War, G.I.'s Face a New Iraq Mission
New York Times


BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 14 - Sgt. Jaime A. Betancourt was there in March when a taxi loaded with explosives killed four of his company's soldiers at a checkpoint.


He is still here today, enduring infernal heat and fetid quarters in the ransacked headquarters of Iraq's Interior Ministry, as much of the Third Infantry Division remains in the city it helped conquer, interacting with people it once saw as the enemy.


Six months after arriving in Kuwait and almost three months after entering Iraq, they were ready to go home. Then they discovered that, at least from a soldier's-eye view on the ground, there seemed to be no American plan for a postwar Iraq.

The mayhem that followed the collapse of Mr. Hussein's government on April 9 has thrust them into a new mission: keeping peace, even as their weary minds and bodies are still at war.


Last Saturday night, Sergeant Betancourt's company sent a Humvee and an armored personnel carrier on a mission to fix the satellite phone their company had bought in Baghdad. As they were returning, someone threw a grenade from an overpass. It exploded only a few feet away, rattling but not seriously wounding two soldiers.

"If it had been a split second earlier, it'd have been bad," Staff Sgt. Ray B. Robinson, a squad leader in Sergeant Betancourt's company, said. "They're killing us."


"It wouldn't be so bad if they said nothing," Sergeant Betancourt said about going home.

Then he echoed a complaint heard without exception among the brigade's soldiers. "We're war fighters," he said. "Our job is done."


He complained about the putrid water that had built up in the neighborhood's streets after a sewage pipe broke. He complained that he could not open his restaurant for lack of propane and customers. He complained that his council had no contact with the new authorities here, besides Lieutenant Sok.

"They work very slowly," he said of the Americans. "Our people are beginning to get angry, and it's not going to be good."


Fourth Generation Warfare

Iraq and the Middle East