Monday, October 02, 2006
A Problem That Needs To Be Fixed
Looks scary out there, I'll just stay in my trailer.
Of course there are numerous things I believe the army could fix or simply do better but there is one major problem that I believe that needs to be fixed right away. In the 30 or so months I have spent deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since February 2003 I have never heard a word out of anyone’s mouth in the army from the brigade level down about why we are fighting in Iraq. We receive numerous classes about how to behave while in country but nothing about why we are in country to begin with which leads me to believe our chain of command is not concerned about their soldiers having a clue why they are here or not. Whether or not this is the case is not what I am concerned with, it appears that way and since perceptions are a reality for a lot of soldiers I believe it needs to be addressed.
Let me get something straight before I continue though; I believe we have good reason to be in Iraq and I am content fighting for the reasons that put me here i.e. Saddam was dangerous, he expressed a want for nuclear weapons and whether or not he had them he was actively seeking them, he used WMD’s against his own people before, he violated UN sanctions etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda. The list goes on and on, and like I said is satisfactory for myself and a number of other soldiers, but I believe that most soldiers don’t have the slightest clue why they are really here. Whether this fault is completely their own or partly the fault of their chain of command is up for debate.
Why do I believe that most soldiers don’t have a clue why they are here you may be asking? Well I hear them talking about it all the time. “We are only here for the oil, to avenge Bush’s daddy, to try and take over the world” insert any loony reason you want into this sentence and they have probably said it. These beliefs are not only echoed by lower enlisted soldiers but I have also heard complete confusion or just plain wrong assumptions for our being here from senior enlisted NCOs and officers. These beliefs are not only unfounded on my fellow soldiers’ parts but also intellectually irresponsible and lazy on the part of their leaders. Leaders in the army have many responsibilities toward their soldiers and I believe one of those responsibilities is mentoring them on the why and not just then when and how.
To outline the problem more specifically I believe there is almost no understanding of why we are fighting in Iraq on the company level (i.e. each individual unit). We carry out our job day in and day out without ever hearing how we are affecting the war cause with our efforts. If we were only presented with the big picture once in awhile I think we would have more motivation to complete our job the best we are able to. I understand the job of most soldiers is to do rather than to question but I don’t believe that is an excuse to go about our jobs ignorant of the overall picture. If our leaders took the time to sit us down and talk to us about why we are in Iraq as often as they do about sexual harassment or finance we would have a much better understanding of why we are fighting.
I am willing to bet a large sum of money that most soldiers in WWII knew exactly what they were fighting for. They went to Europe and the Pacific with the knowledge that if they weren’t successful they would be facing the consequences of a Nazi dominated Europe on one side and a power hungry Japanese threat on the other. Of course it would be easier to fight a uniformed enemy like we did in WWII than to do what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan where everyone looks like an enemy, but this is precisely the reason why we need a better understanding of the big picture in order to stay motivated and keep up the fight.
I accuse myself of being guilty in the past of championing only the good of what is going on in Iraq. I have argued against polls that have come out stating that a majority of soldiers simply wish they could leave Iraq now and go home and I feel now that I would be wrong to do so again. While I do believe that if it came down to the brass tax most soldiers would agree that we should not cut and run right now I do not believe the majority of soldiers could give you a detailed description of why we are fighting in Iraq other than saying something like “we are doing it for the Iraqi people so they can be free.” Giving the Iraqi people a chance at freedom is a great and honorable thing but it is not the only reason why we are here.
This problem perplexes me and I wish I could do more about it. Of course I spend my time trying to educate fellow soldiers if they want to listen but I usually cannot get passed my first argument before someone calls me a Bush lover and asks me if I want to listen to some Toby Keith while drinking Coca Cola and eating apple pie. I liken the problem to the problem America has with poor voter turnout for elections. I do not believe everyone should vote since most people are misinformed or simply ignorant about which candidate to vote for and it is the same with soldiers and their opinions about the war. Most soldiers don’t take the time to watch the nightly news let alone read about what is going on outside their trailer. Most soldiers’ opinions don’t mean squat and shouldn’t because they don’t have a mind for anything other than their work. If a convoy to a base that needs fuel desperately to carry out helicopter missions in order to catch bad guys gets scratched due to bad circumstances so be it, more time for them to watch TV. If we only had a better idea of the consequences of our actions we wouldn’t feel this way. I don’t mean to make it sound like all soldiers could care less or don’t have brains but the reality is that some of them don’t.
So what do I believe we should do about the problem then? I think we should start training soldiers on all aspects of their deployment. If they are going to be stationed in Baghdad then we should explain to them what is going on in Baghdad and what our military leaders hope to see happen in the future. We should also explain to each unit how they figure into the plan for the future and give them constant updates about how what they are doing is affecting the outcome of the plan for the positive or the negative. This training should not be conducted individually by every unit but rather, by a team of army approved speakers that could travel around and/or compile power point slides, videos, and fact books to hand out for units to provide for their soldiers. This would probably be the only way the army would be able to control what information is being put out to soldiers and would mirror the way in which they disseminate information already so it wouldn’t be a big change.
We could also prepare soldiers at home station before they deploy by giving them a history of the region and the conflict we are in. By doing so false information and rumors would be stopped dead in their tracks before soldiers got into country and started talking to friends and family, and in some cases the media, and spreading the lies they hear from other soldiers.
All soldiers don’t have to believe in what they are fighting for but at the very least they should be educated about the reasons why their leadership has asked them to fight in a foreign land. With more education only comes more understanding and that is never a bad thing. Until the army takes this problem seriously I believe more soldiers will look back on their time in the desert as a good but unnecessary experience.