"We don't want to be here anymore"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 16 06:37:13 MDT 2003


LA Times, July 16, 2003

For U.S. Soldiers in Iraq, Long Haul Grows Longer

The latest deployment extension stirs new complaints that troops are 
already overtaxed. In Baghdad, another GI is killed.

By John Hendren, Times Staff Writer

FALLOUJA, Iraq — They're hot, they're cranky, and they're not leaving 
any time soon. Spc. Steven Outen has phoned his parents in Dalton, Ga., 
twice since his original six-month tour in the Persian Gulf was due to 
end in March to say his stay had been extended. This week, he didn't 
bother to call after he was again told to remain, this time through 
September. They expected it, he said.

"I didn't like it at all," he said.

Between bites of a breakfast of eggs and sausage in heat already topping 
110 degrees, Spc. Joseph Lynes added, "Going home for me isn't even 
reality anymore."

Their exhausted outfit, the 3rd Infantry's 2nd Brigade, will have 
completed a full year in the Persian Gulf in September. Tens of 
thousands more U.S. soldiers are expected to face equally long 
deployments. The U.S. Central Command is expected to announce as soon as 
next week that deployments to Iraq will now last a year, military 
officials said on condition of anonymity.

And the duty is dangerous: Early today a U.S. soldier was killed and two 
others wounded in an apparent bombing west of Baghdad, witnesses said.

Griping by soldiers is as old as warfare itself, but military officials 
say longer stays for soldiers such as Outen and Lynes, whose brigade 
stormed Baghdad in early April and played a major role in toppling 
Saddam Hussein's regime, are a symptom of an Army that is stretched too 
thin. At a time when Pentagon strategists are considering cuts in the 
overall size of the Army, a broad range of soldiers — from senior brass 
in Washington to ground-pounding GIs in Fallouja — think that the Army 
should instead be growing to take on the expanding tasks the Bush 
administration has handed it.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that retention rates are already beginning 
to suffer in the face of the grueling Iraq duty, Army officials said on 
condition of anonymity.

There simply aren't enough soldiers for the job as it is, Army insiders 
argue.

"You've got to take an appetite suppressant, or you've got to size the 
force appropriately," an Army officer serving in Iraq said on condition 
of anonymity, adding that peacekeeping commitments posed a greater 
strain on the service than fighting wars. "If anything, this war shows 
we need a larger Army."

The office of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) says it has fielded hundreds of 
calls and letters from angry families at Ft. Stewart, Ga., which is the 
headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division. Other lawmakers have 
expressed similar concerns.

Military experts said that such significant numbers of soldiers or 
entire units have not been asked to serve in combat for such an extended 
period of time since the Vietnam War.

"For major combat units, this is clearly the longest sustained combat 
deployment since Vietnam," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at 
the Brookings Institution.

The Pentagon routinely deploys troops overseas in peacetime for months 
at a time but rarely without their families.

Although a single unit is often continuously deployed, individual 
soldiers rotate in and out to keep the unit fresh and keep the careers 
and training of the troops from stagnating.

The well-publicized woes of the 3rd Infantry Division appear to have 
given the nation's oldest armed service an edge in a battle within the 
Defense Department. Pentagon officials are expected to drop 
consideration of a plan to cut the size of the Army from 10 divisions to 
eight, at least for the foreseeable future, defense officials and 
military analysts said.

Army leaders complain privately that they have been punished for 
defeating Iraq more quickly than Pentagon strategists had anticipated 
with about half the troops that Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks 
had initially sought.

After a series of clashes with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, 
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki left in June with a parting 
shot at Rumsfeld, whom Army officials accuse of doing too much with too 
few soldiers: "Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division army."

Rumsfeld has not decided whether to trim the overall number of GIs, a 
senior aide said recently, but Army officials say that before the war, 
senior Pentagon leaders showed an inclination to cut. The defense 
secretary is openly criticized by privates and officers alike in 
Fallouja, where soldiers face rifle fire, mortar shells or 
rocket-propelled grenades almost daily.

"People say Rumsfeld needs to get out of office," one soldier said, to 
nods from two fellow GIs.

Lawrence Di Rita, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that the plan was 
still to bring the 3rd Infantry Division home this fall and that there 
had been no change in the overall plans for the division. He said 
Pentagon officials were focused on ensuring an orderly redeployment of 
forces.

Of the Army's 10 divisions, about half — the 3rd Infantry, the 4th 
Infantry, the 101st Airborne, the 1st Armored Division and a nearly 
division-sized assortment of smaller units such as a brigade from the 
82nd Airborne and the 2nd and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiments — are 
deployed in Iraq.

Even the approximately 150,000 troops — backed by the Air Force, Navy 
and troops from other countries — are not enough, many members of 
Congress say.

Some of the remaining divisions are tied up in military hot spots in 
Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Philippines, South Korea and 
possibly soon in Liberia. Others are posted in Germany, Japan and Italy. 
And still more remain at their home bases, training for their next 
deployments and aiding the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The gaps are often filled by Army Reserve and National Guard units 
called away from their civilian jobs.

"What are we doing here?" asked a Rhode Island National Guardsman on an 
overnight patrol in Fallouja that had come under repeated rifle and 
rocket-propelled-grenade fire. "They got the Special Forces, the 3rd 
Infantry Division, the 3rd Armored Division, the 101st Airborne, the 4th 
Infantry Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment — and the 115th MP 
Company of the Rhode Island National Guard."

Spc. Patrick Camp was more blunt.

"We don't want to be here anymore," said Camp, whose company left for 
the gulf Feb. 7. "I don't think even God knows when we're leaving."

It's a particularly sore subject in the 3rd Infantry's 2nd Brigade, 
which was credited with bringing the war to an early end and was then 
sent to quell a growing uprising in Fallouja.

The 3rd Brigade is already in Kuwait, on its way home. But the soldiers 
of the 2nd now will remain beyond their expected tour in Fallouja as 
well because the Central Command considers the city too insecure to 
allow them to pull out before a similarly large and heavily equipped 
unit can replace it, officials said.

The mood was made all the worse after Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, the 
division's commander, told his troops that they would be going home 
soon, followed by a similar statement to Congress from Rumsfeld. Senior 
Army officials say the decision came from the top, after little 
consultation with Army brass.

Nevertheless, brigade officials say that mood is one thing, morale another.

"Absolutely, they're disappointed. And you wouldn't expect anything 
else," said Lt. Col. Eric Wesley, the brigade's executive officer. But 
he added: "There is not a morale problem It is only a morale issue if 
this unit cannot go to its next mission and perform as effectively."

Even if the storied "Spartan" brigade finishes this mission with its 
morale undiminished, its affection for the Pentagon's civilian leaders 
might not fare as well.

"Tell Donald Rumsfeld the 2nd Brigade is still stuck in Fallouja," said 
Sgt. Siphon Phan, "and we're very angry."
-- 

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