Esprit de corps higher when mission is defined
BABYLON, Iraq — Despite living in the dustbowls that are most U.S. military camps in Iraq, troops who believe in what they are doing and consider themselves well-trained to do it report the highest morale in the country.
Their gung-ho spirit seems to transcend hardships like not having air conditioning, chow halls or proper showers. Many expected their job in Iraq to be difficult.
“Even though we do not have access to certain things like a game room or a morale trip, I don’t think any of us expect these things,” said Marine Lance Corp. Gabriel Prado of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines at Twin Towers, a camp near Diwaniyah. “We’re here to get our job done so we can go home.”
The Marines at Twin Towers had toughed it out for nearly five months in a cramped old Baath Party headquarters before shipping out in early September. Some lived six to a room. About 40 others at the camp had claimed a large hall and were living cot-to-cot in the airless building.
But their job on the streets of Iraq, providing security and helping rebuild the government, had been challenging and rewarding, many said in interviews.
Fifty-one percent of the Marines surveyed by Stars and Stripes who said they had “high” or “very high” morale reported their work in Iraq was either “identical” to or “very close” to what they had trained to do.
More than 70 percent of those Marines also said the war was “very worthwhile” or “probably worthwhile.”
“The general attitude of the Marine Corps is that you are able to adapt to your circumstances,” said 1st Lt. Davis Lewis of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, which had about 500 Marines stationed at an old pistol factory near Hillah.
The Seabees working at Camp Babylon built everything from bridges to new toilet stalls for troops while refurbishing scores of schools and buildings for Iraqis. It was the job they were trained to do and they loved doing it.
“Our morale is extremely high,” said Lt. Mark Dietrich, operations officer for an amalgam of stateside Seabee units. “As long as Seabees are building something, morale is extremely good.”
In visits to dozens of military camps around Iraq, Stars and Stripes reporters found that Marines, Seabees and Air Force troops reported the highest morale — although Stripes could only survey 70 of the 1,500 Air Force troops in Iraq.
Of the nearly 2,000 troops surveyed, 8 percent reported “very high” morale; 19 percent reported “high” morale; and 37 percent reported “average” morale.
By contrast, 14 percent of Air Force troops reported “very high” morale; 41 percent reported “high” morale and 23 percent reported average “morale.”
Eleven percent of Marines surveyed reported “very high” morale; 33 percent reported “high” morale and 42 percent reported “average” morale.
Seven percent of Army troops surveyed reported “very high” morale; 20 percent reported “high” morale; and 39 percent reported “average” morale.
Of Air Force personnel surveyed who reported “high” or “very” high morale, half reported that they were doing jobs that were “identical” to or “very close” to what they were trained for. Another 28 percent reported that their jobs were closely related to their training. Fifty-three percent said they believed the war was “very worthwhile” for America and another 21 percent said it was “probably worthwhile.”
The results of the 1,037 active-duty Army members surveyed, on the other hand, told a different story. Fifty-six percent of those reporting “low” or “very low” morale said they were not doing what they were trained to do. And less than half — 42 percent — believed the war was “very worthwhile” or “probably worthwhile.”
Military sociologist Charles Moskos said morale is influenced by unit cohesion, belief in a cause and seeing the children of the nation’s elite also serving. Moskos said that belief in the cause for which one is fighting is one of the most overlooked aspects of morale.
One retired officer with 30 years of military experience said morale is also affected by having the right training for the right job.
“The morale is high when a man is put into a job for which he is trained — naturally,” said retired Army Col. Bob White, who served in a total of nine campaigns in Korea and Vietnam. “And if he understands the mission, if he knows why he is there and ordered to do what he is told to do. Those two are very important.”
In interviews, many troops cited a variety of other ways they kept their spirits high: seeing tangible results, focusing on the mission, being prepared for adversity and maintaining unit camaraderie.
“As long as your buddies are alive, that’s good,” said Spc. John Stubbs, a 101st Airborne Division soldier living at the main palace in Mosul. “Everybody here joined for a reason higher than ourselves. But having these experiences makes you understand what the oath means.”
Staff writer Ward Sanderson contributed to this story.