Thursday, July 21, 2005

Postcard from a quagmire 

Prepare for another beat-up: "Majority of Soldiers Say Iraq Morale Low":
A majority of U.S. soldiers in Iraq say morale is low, according to an Army report that finds psychological stress is weighing particularly heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops.
Which is true, except that the report actually notes improvements on all accounts compared with a similar study one year earlier:
Wednesday's report said the number of suicides in Iraq and Kuwait declined from 24 in 2003 to nine last year...

The overall assessment said 13 percent of soldiers in the most recent study screened positive for a mental health problem, compared with 18 percent a year earlier. Symptoms of acute or post-traumatic stress remained the top mental health problem, affecting at least 10 percent of all soldiers checked in the latest survey.

In the anonymous survey, 17 percent of soldiers said they had experienced moderate or severe stress or problems with alcohol, emotions or their families. That compares with 23 percent a year earlier.
And what about the morale?
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.
So, as the US sinks ever deeper in the Iraqi quagmire, the mental health and morale of its troops are actually improving. I guess that's actually bad news as far as the media is concerned.

The biggest source of worry for the personnel seem to be the lengthening of the tours of duty. This is clearly something for Pentagon to look into, but as General Pace reminded the media at today's press conference while speaking about another theater of operations:
I was just in Afghanistan last week, and out -- pretty far out into the mountains talking to some of our great Army soldiers who have been out there for almost a full tour. You look them in the eye and you ask them -- if you say to them, would they like to go home, the answer is of course they would. If you say to them: Do you understand the value of your service over here? They swell up with pride and they say yes, they do. And they do not want to come home until the job is done. They understand.

So, I haven't seen the report. But clearly, if you tone a question as to whether you'd rather be here sweaty and dirty and fighting, or be home, the answer's going to be, "I'd like to be home with my family."

But if you're asking -- if you ask them straightaway, look them in the eye and say, "How do you feel about the time you're spending here? Is this worth the time that you are spending?" they categorically will tell you that. Afghanistan -- they know there's another election coming up September 18th. U.S. soldiers there are proud of their contribution, just as those in Iraq are proud of the fact that there will be a referendum on October 15th and there'll be an election in December. That's irrefutable.


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