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Morale of U.S. Troops Falling in Iraq?
Aired July 17, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In recent weeks, U.S. troops increasingly have come under attack from Saddam loyalists. But right now, the biggest threat to the morale of the troops apparently has little to do with enemy fire. The Pentagon announced this week that it is extending the stay of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division until at least September. Those soldiers were expecting to return home in just a few days. As might be expected, many of them aren't too happy about that.
Jennifer Coggiola reports.
JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Delayed homecomings for troops still in Iraq have brought a new mood to some soldiers on the front line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think, in my personal opinion, we got the shaft. We got screwed, because we came, we fought and now we're ready to go home.
COGGIOLA: The new military morale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen a lot of soldiers losing confidence. And it's just -- it's hard -- it's hard to believe a lot of what we're told now. So it's just a wait and see. Once we get on the plane and fly home, then that's when we'll believe that we're going home.
COGGIOLA: But, while they're still away from home, they're fighting a personal battle against homesickness that's not being won.
So what's different between this generation of soldier and those before them? E-mail, satellite phones, newer, quicker methods of communicating with home, frustration feeding off each other, making perhaps the long distance even more difficult.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.
COGGIOLA: Or is it the strain of single parenting or the uncertainty of a homecoming?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you tell us we're going to be home in December, OK, at least we have a set point. It's just been pushing back and pushing back and pushing back. So that's been what's gotten us the most, is the uncertainty of it all. COGGIOLA: An uncertainty taking its toll on those far from home.
Jennifer Coggiola, CNN, Atlanta.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: So just how bad is troop morale and why is this situation any different from previous U.S. wars?
I'm joined now by Captain Fred Dufault of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. He recently returned home from Iraq.
CAPTAIN FRED DUFAULT, U.S. ARMY: Thank you.
ZAHN: And I'm also joined tonight by CNN military analyst retired Brigadier General David Grange.
Always good to see you, General, as well.
RETIRED BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to see you.
ZAHN: First off, how would you characterize the morale right now?
DUFAULT: It's good. I think morale on the ground after the high-intensity conflict, now in the SASO operations, it's down after the war. But I think it really depends where you are in Iraq.
ZAHN: And it also depends on when you get to go home, doesn't it?
DUFAULT: Yes, ma'am.
ZAHN: Particularly those folks whose deployments have been extended. Do you understand why some of those folks are publicly calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld? Some of them have said nasty things about their commander in chief.
And I totally think that it's out of line for them to do that. Soldiers, basically, when they join the Army, from basic training, are told and are taught that upper-level leadership, the Army's and the -- America's leadership makes decisions. And you can have an opinion, but not -- you're not able to always express those opinions outward and openly.
ZAHN: And, General Grange, given that, historically, you've been encouraged not to say those things publicly, just the sheer fact that these kind of feelings are coming to the forefront, what does that signify to you?
GRANGE: Well, we've all had those feelings. And that's the life of a soldier. This is a volunteer military. And those are the things that you accept when you volunteer to serve.
Soldiers should have an outlet to gripe, complain about conditions: food, mail, sleeping conditions, whatever the case may be. But you do that within your chain of command. You do that within your unit. And you air those opinions. And your sergeants and your officers should listen to that and then answer your questions. But you have an oath of office that you don't do that publicly.
ZAHN: So what is the answer here, Captain Dufault? Is it the conditions that are leading to these angry responses? Or is it the fact that some of these soldiers felt like they were misled about the mission and then that, perhaps, combat operations were -- the major part of them were declared over too early?
DUFAULT: I don't think so.
I think the major problem is, is that they weren't prepared for the transition into stability-and-support operations after the conflict. They want to know when they're going home. That's the bottom line. And not knowing that, they've got a lot of time. Op tempo is down. They've got a lot of time to think. And it's really a leadership challenge. Leaders need to come up with ways to keep them busy. There needs to be a mission for them for to keep their time -- to fill their time. Otherwise, they start complaining.
ZAHN: And, General Grange, based on what you've heard some of these soldiers say publicly, does it indicate to you that the morale is lower than wars that you've been exposed to?
GRANGE: Well, morale is always an issue. And like the captain said, it's a leadership issue. What's happening here, Paula, is that you have an environment of uncertainty. You're not sure how the populace is going to act. You don't know what the -- you didn't expect the transition of the mission.
In other words, you weren't prepared mentally, or maybe even by training, to transition from combat to stability operations. And there's a lot of expectations. Today, people think wars and operations, even peacekeeping operations, get over quickly. And we haven't been in sustained combat or on sustained operations -- like, in Vietnam, we went at least a year -- in a long time. And so expectations are changed.
And the other is, what affects morale quite a bit is the communications you talked about, this global information environment, e-mail, different morale calls home, and the expectations from families. And with 60 percent of the military married now, there is a lot more pressure on a G.I. from family members than in the past.
ZAHN: Captain Dufault, I see you nodding your head in agreement.
ZAHN: That all makes sense to you, resonates with you?
DUFAULT: Yes, ma'am. Yes. Information age, communication age, information is there immediately. You know when your son kicked a field goal in football or whatnot almost immediately. And it's like the general said. It was -- in Vietnam era, it took sometimes months to get that kind of information, so -- for you to be able to react to it. Sometimes, it hits close to home.
ZAHN: You had always counted on coming home because of your rotation about this time. How relieved are you to be at home?
DUFAULT: Very relieved. Timing wise, sometimes, I wish I was back, because my company is there. I just gave up command. So, there is a little bit of guilt for being back. But I know there's good leadership over there and great guys. And they'll take care of each other.
ZAHN: Well, thank you for your perspective. Welcome home.
ZAHN: And we're so proud of your service.
DUFAULT: Thank you.
ZAHN: Nice to have you join us.
General Grange, I'd shake your hand, but you're too far away this evening.
GRANGE: Good talking to you.
ZAHN: Always good to have you join us.
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