GIs in Iraq will be disciplined for saying what is

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Jul 19 11:12:03 MDT 2003


"'We liberated Iraq. Now the people here don't want us here, and guess
what? We don't want to be here either," he said. "So why are we still
here? Why don't they bring us home?'"

Pentagon retaliates against GIs who spoke out on TV
Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

URL:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/07/18/MN24829
9.DTL

Fallujah, Iraq -- Morale is dipping pretty low among U.S. soldiers as
they stew in Iraq's broiling heat, get shot at by an increasingly
hostile population and get repeated orders to extend their tours of
duty.

Ask any grunt standing guard on a 115-degree day what he or she thinks
of the open-ended Iraq occupation, and you'll get an earful of
colorful complaints.

But going public isn't always easy, as soldiers of the Army's Second
Brigade, Third Infantry Division found out after "Good Morning
America" aired their complaints.

The brigade's soldiers received word this week from the Pentagon that
it was extending their stay, with a vague promise to send them home by
September if the security situation allows. They've been away from
home since September, and this week's announcement was the third time
their mission has been extended.

It was bad news for the division's 12,000 homesick soldiers, who were
at the forefront of the force that overthrew Saddam Hussein's
government and moved into Baghdad in early April.

On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show reported from Fallujah,
where the division is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful.
One soldier said he felt like he'd been "kicked in the guts, slapped
in the face." Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
quit.
The retaliation from Washington was swift.

CAREERS OVER FOR SOME
"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all
the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At
least six of us here will lose our careers."
First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media
"on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're
giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the
Pentagon loves to hear.

Only two days before the ABC show, similarly bitter sentiments -- with
no names attached -- were voiced in an anonymous e-mail circulating
around the Internet, allegedly from "the soldiers of the Second
Brigade, Third ID."

"Our morale is not high or even low," the letter said. "Our morale is
nonexistent. We have been told twice that we were going home, and
twice we have received a 'stop' movement to stay in Iraq."

The message, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, concluded:
"Our men and women deserve to be treated like the heroes they are, not
like farm animals. Our men and women deserve to see their loved ones
again and deserve to come home."

After this one-two punch, it was perhaps natural that on Thursday, the
same troops and officers who had been garrulous and outspoken in
previous visits were quiet, and most declined to speak on the record.
During a visit to Fallujah, a small city about 30 miles west of
Baghdad, military officials expressed intense chagrin about the bad
publicity. And they slammed the ABC reporters for focusing on the
soldiers' criticism of Rumsfeld, Bush and other officials and implying
that they are unwilling to carry out their mission.

COMPLAINTS CALLED ROUTINE
"Soldiers have bitched since the beginning of time," said Capt. James
Brownlee, the public affairs officer for the Second Brigade. "That's
part of being a soldier. They bitch. But what does 'bad morale' really
mean? That they're not combat-ready or loyal? Nobody here fits that
definition."

The nervousness of the brass has a venerable history. It has long been
a practice in American democracy that the military do not criticize
the nation's civilian leaders, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur found out in
1951, when he criticized President Harry Truman's Korean War
strategy -- and was promptly fired.

Yet several U.S. officers said privately that troop morale is indeed
low. "The problem is not the heat," said one high-ranking officer.
"Soldiers get used to that. The problem is getting orders to go home,
so your wife gets all psyched about it, then getting them reversed,
and then having the same process two more times."

In Baghdad, average soldiers from other Army brigades are eager to
spill similar complaints.
"I'm not sure people in Washington really know what it's like here,"
said Corp. Todd Burchard as he stood on a street corner, sweating
profusely and looking bored. "We'll keep doing our jobs as best as
anyone can, but we shouldn't have to still be here in the first
place."
Nearby, Pfc. Jason Ring stood next to his Humvee. "We liberated Iraq.
Now the people here don't want us here, and guess what? We don't want
to be here either," he said. "So why are we still here? Why don't they
bring us home?"
E-mail Robert Collier at rcollier at sfchronicle.com.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
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