US soldiers losing fight to keep up morale

The US Army in Iraq is suffering from poor morale, erratic supplies of vital equipment and a lack of strategic vision, according to soldiers surveyed by the Army’s newspaper, <.Stars and Stripes.<>

Thirty-four per cent of 2,000 US soldiers questioned by the military newspaper said that morale was low or very low, while only 27 per cent described it as high. The rest said that morale was average to low. Some troops complained of having served for months on a dangerous mission without a single day off or a hot shower.

Typical of the disgruntled US soldiers scattered across Baghdad and the northern and central regions is Specialist Will Bromley, a gunner on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Two years ago, he joined up in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks on his homeland. Now he is guarding an empty building on Baghdad’s alRashid Street, unsure of when he is going home or what he is doing in Iraq.

“I don’t think morale is very high. I think it is very low. You got guys freaking out. I heard of ten guys who committed suicide. If guys are committing suicide, morale is not high. If they’re saying morale is high, they’re liars,” said the 24-year-old Texan from the 136th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, who has been in Iraq since May.

At a time when President Bush is seeking to portray his war in Iraq as a success misrepresented by a gloomy media, more than a third of soldiers questioned said their mission was “not clearly defined,” and 40 per cent said that they were not doing what they had been trained to do.

Another 31 per cent said that the war was of little or no value, compared to 67 per cent who said it was worthwhile or “probably worthwhile”. Soldiers are particularly unhappy about the vagueness surrounding their departure dates from Iraq, complaining that they could spend longer in the country than the one year that they were promised.

As US troops face an average of 22 attacks a day in the hostile central region of Iraq known as the Sunni Triangle, soldiers said that they were being sent into combat without adequate medical supplies and without sufficient bulletproof plates to insert in their flak jackets.

The report also revealed yawning gaps in living standards, with some troops receiving three hot meals a day while other units survived on plastic-wrapped rations and bottled water.

While most troops in Iraq are proud of having toppled the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the growing sense of disillusionment as the mission drags on with no exit strategy has raised fears that army re-enlistment rates will plummet in the coming years.

“Out here there’s no one in charge,” Specialist Bromley complained. “I don’t care what they say, you really feel like a chicken with its head cut off,” he said, adding that his unit was given insufficient time to prepare raids and other missions, putting men’s lives at risks. Aside from the uncertainty of his return date, scheduled for April next year, but possibly delayed until May or June, what bothers Specialist Bromley most is the apparent lack of an overall plan by the US Administration.

“They’re not stupid, but they did kind of wing it. I don’t like being part of a little experiment,” he said, adding that the training he had received as a Bradley gunner served little purpose to the combat troops-turned-peacekeepers. “The skills we’ve been taught don’t apply here, not at all. We were taught that the way to clear a house is to fire a tank round into it. You can’t do that here,” Specialist Bromley said. “All we’re doing here is guarding ourselves.”

The Stars and Stripes survey revealed that many non-commissioned officers feared that soldiers will refuse to re-enlist once their terms expire.

Specialist Bromley, who spends his limited spare time lifting weights, using a PlayStation and talking to his wife at a subsidised rate of a dollar an hour on a satellite phone, concurred with a bitter laugh. “The retention’s going to go down a lot, they’re going to have a hard time. If I knew a dude enlisting right now I’d have to ask him what he was thinking about,” said the young soldier, who still has another four years to serve in the Army and worries that he could be sent back for a second tour of duty in Iraq.

See also:
Bring Us Home Now! Part 1