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Wednesday, January 21, 2004
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Morale slips overseas
Spirit dwindles for soldiers in Iraq

COMMENTARY
Erin Cooksley

The worst problem facing U.S. forces in Iraq may not be guerilla warfare but a crisis of morale. Recently, the government funded military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that “A third of U.S. troops surveyed in Iraq said their morale was low and half stated that they are unlikely to stay in the armed forces.”

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez made a statement to the paper after the release of the report, “There is no morale problem.” Congress also has a differing opinion than the Stars and Stripes. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., visited Iraq for two days and met with troops of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and reported that morale was high. However, I believe that the administration gets a “rose colored glasses” view of the occupation because the people they are allowed to talk to are hand picked by officials. I think we all have a “rose colored glasses” view when it comes to the situation and living conditions in Iraq. In October of 2003, military officials stated that 11 Army soldiers and three Marines had committed suicide in Iraq. The Navy is currently investigating one possible suicide. These numbers are above average for military suicides. The Army has sent a mental health team to Iraq and has since sent 478 soldiers home from Iraq for mental health issues.

I do not doubt that morale is low for many in Iraq. Some soldiers have been there since the beginning of operations almost a year ago, away from home, family and a “normal” life. Who could blame them for not being in the best of spirits during this time of conflict? No one has the right to hold any military or administrative official accountable for a “low morale.” It should be expected.

Media coverage is also to blame as a source of low morale for soldiers in Iraq. Pentagon leaders, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have accused the media of “largely ignoring” progress while dwelling on problems. And with the Presidential Election race of 2004 up and running, many politicians and their supporters openly opposed to the war have been accused of also being unsupportive and “against” the troops. Many say they simply oppose the war but support the troops. I do believe this to be the leading contradictory statement of the decade. I do not find it possible for someone to support troops who are fighting for a cause, but disagree with the cause.

I think the condition of morale among our troops is to be expected, neither classified as high or low, but what could best be anticipated to come out of such circumstances while honorably fulfilling their duty to their country. I have read all the reports and statements and I now find myself attempting to evaluate the situation. But in the end, I don’t think any top official or citizen here at home is capable of doing that. We could never imagine the training they went through to prepare and the stress they encounter every day.

Erin Cooksley is a freshman political science major from Texas City.