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U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa.

U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa. (Jessica Inigo / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The ranking Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, has been touring the Middle East and Germany and says troops may be complaining, but morale remains high.

Along with U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., Murtha visited U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Heidelberg on Wednesday to describe what they learned from talking with military leadership, troops and family members.

Murtha said during his visit to Iraq it was 115 degrees, and servicemembers said it was cooler than it had been in the past several days.

“What stood out in my mind is that troop morale is high,” Murtha said. “They complain like they complain every place. On the other hand, they know they’re doing a job that is important to the security of this country.”

Realizing the troops are living in difficult conditions, the congressman acknowledged that there are shortages in Iraq, giving good reason for complaints.

“We probably have to put more money up front,” Murtha said. “That’s the thing I came away with and that’s what I’m going to talk to Congress about when I get back.”

“We didn’t realize how bad shape the infrastructure was in. It’s going to cost a lot more and take more time,” he said of rebuilding the country.

“The Iraqi people expected us to perform miracles and we’re not going to be able to perform miracles. It’s going to take a lot of money and some time before we could get this thing ... energized, we have to work on internationalizing the situation and ‘Iraqinizing’ the situation. What I mean by that is, more Iraqis in the field and turning it over to the Iraqis.”

He said progress is slowly being made.

As for the future of troops, Murtha said there is a possibility that some troops will come out of Europe.

“We have a different threat, a terrorist threat,” he said. “It is a worldwide threat. We’ll still need bases in Europe to be able to respond to any problems we have in this area. But I think you’ll see a change in the direction, maybe some moving east, maybe some bases — not necessarily big bases, but training bases — opening up in Africa, and things like that.”

He explained that Europeans are being asked to take on more responsibility in Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina to help free up American troops.

“This is the most deployed that we’ve been as long as I’ve been in Congress,” Murtha said. “We never had so many people deployed to so many different places. We’re focusing on a different type of problem today than we did before.”

That problem is finding the amount of people needed to exchange for the troops already deployed.

“Right now, the Defense Department [and] the State Department are working through all international organizations trying to come up with ways to replace United States troops,” Murtha said.

Other suggestions given to the congressmen during their visit include: extending Tricare coverage to reservists, giving troops a small amount of leave during long deployments to the Middle East and working out the continuing mail problems.

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