Losing the Troops

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The military is stretched thin. Troops are staying in Iraq longer than expected. Reservists are being kept away from jobs and families longer than expected. Halliburton can’t provide troops with adequate water and food. The Pentagon proposed a paycut for troops, and retracted in response to pubic pressure. Foreign help doesn’t seem on it’s way. Morale is low.

Wasn’t President Bush supposed to be the pro-military President? Is this the same guy that wore a flight suit? Knight Ridder’s senior military correspondent says the Bush Pentagon is bad for the army. It’s stretched very thin:

“Under Rumsfeld, by next spring 30 of the Army’s 33 combat brigades will either be in Iraq or on their way home from Iraq…More than 20,000 Army Reservists and National Guardsmen will be finishing one-year tours in Iraq, and thousands more will be called up to do their year. How many will be willing to re-enlist if they’re faced with endless deployments on thankless missions in the far reaches of empire?”

It’s politicized:

“Where once the Army would send up its nominee for a vacant billet, now it must send up two or three candidates who must run the gantlet of personal interviews in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Not just Rumsfeld, but all of his civilian experts who never wore a uniform. What hoops must the successful one jump through? Will it be the tough, bright candidate who’s unafraid to speak when he sees mistakes being made? Or will it be the buttoned-down, willow-in-the-wind, can-do yes-man? Your basic Oliver North?”

And its strategy and planning is based on a flawed theory:

“Rumsfeld and company have embraced, on the basis of a fleeting success in Afghanistan and a flawed success in Iraq, a theory that all that’s needed to win our wars is air power and small bands of Special Operations troops. Stealth bombers and snake-eaters.”

There’s no rosy outlook either. The Bush administration continues to urge countries to join the occupation in Iraq, but help is far from assured. In any case, General Pace said last week, “hope is not a plan.” If other countries continue to hold out, the Pentagon says, more reservists will have to be called up. And tours of duty will be yearlong. Reservist Mark Kimmey wrote last week in the New York Times:

“…the message to reservists is unmistakable: the Army no longer takes into account sacrifices made to maintain two careers and lives. Many reservists will watch the regular soldiers with whom they came to Iraq go home before they do. The Army may not care about the disparity between the way the forces are treated, but those of us in the Reserve do.

Everyone knows that the regular and Reserve units of the Army are not equal. Regulars are better trained, better equipped and expected to execute their missions more professionally. That’s the way it should be: it’s their job ÷ their only job.”

In an attempt to make up for longer tours, the Pentagon is giving active-dury and Reserve troops in Iraq two weeks of vacation midway through the 12-month tours. Under the plan, the military will pay for troops to be flown to certain airports in the United States, but from those points, travel will be at personal expense. And, oddly enough, hospitalized soldiers have to pay for their own food.

Veterans don’t seem to faring much better under Bush. The department of Veteran’s Affairs has ignored requests of thousands of veterans of the first Gulf War, and denied blood testing to troops departing for Iraq this year. By testing blood before and after Iraq tours of duty, veterans groups were hoping to establish a link between exposure to biological and chemical weapons agents and the illnesses troops suffer after war.

Bush has addressed military audiences perhaps more than any other president. But sooner or later, the claps and cheers he receives will be fake courtesies to a Commander in Chief whose been a fake friend of the military.


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