Blunt comments retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez made last week about the handling of the Iraq war were met with strong opinions Monday from servicemembers in the Pacific.

Nearly all whom Stripes asked in random interviews agreed with Sanchez’s remarks to a convention of military journalists Friday in Washington, D.C., that “America is living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

Sanchez, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq from June 2003 to July 2004, laid blame on the U.S. government.

“From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize the political, economic and military power,” Sanchez said.

And while some servicemembers said that Sanchez, who retired in November 2006, should have spoken up when he was in uniform, others agreed with his rationale that serving generals take an oath to execute the orders of the president.

Of the dozens of people reporters contacted in South Korea, Japan and Okinawa for their personal opinions, many refused to say anything out of concerns they would be reprimanded for speaking to media on an issue involving the conduct of the administration. Some spoke only on condition of anonymity.

On Okinawa Marine bases, public affairs officers prohibit media from conducting interviews without an escort. When an escorted reporter working on a story about three Marines who received Bronze Stars asked them about Sanchez’s comments, the escort disallowed the question.

But many servicemembers in the Pacific spoke their minds freely and provided their names.

Among them was Army Spc. Timothy Bazzell, a motor pool supply clerk with the 568th Medical Company at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.

“To the extent that [the war’s] gone to now, I believe that it should have been finished a while ago. I honestly don’t see any end in sight really, until someone just says they give up,” he said.

The Army starts out with a plan and attempts to follow it, he said, “but from my point of view, I don’t think they followed it as well as they could have. They could have had more support. Not everybody was on the same page, I don’t think.”

Bazzell took Sanchez to task for not speaking up sooner.

“As him saying because he was in uniform, he’s using that as an excuse to not take the blame or not take the responsibility of what he could have done, ’cause he could have done a bit more than he did,” the soldier said. “And now he’s out of his uniform, he’s coming forward and expecting that people are going to be OK with it?”

Staff Sgt. Lisa Thomas, a postal clerk at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, said that at least Sanchez did not remain silent.

“We all have to stand up for something at some time,” she said. “He made the choice not to say anything while he was on active duty because of what he stood for. But he’s bringing it up now, and I’m sure it counts for something.”

On Okinawa, Navy Seaman Brandon Hill said Sanchez should have spoken up while he was in uniform and agreed with him that there is no end in sight.

But, Hill added, “we have to make sure the Iraqi government can stand on its feet.”

At Yokota Air Base in Japan, Senior Airman Brea Rose, with the 374th Air Wing, said whether Sanchez should have come forward sooner is a “complex question.”

“I don’t think if I was in his position that I would have come forward while still in uniform. As a general, he has the extra task of being an example and a role model for his troops,” Rose said.

However, Rose added that Sanchez’s statements were “the truth. It is a nightmare, and a lot of servicemembers feel the same way.”

Along with criticizing the administration, Sanchez also took aim in his remarks at other arms of government.

“The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure, and American people must hold them accountable,” Sanchez said.

Army Pfc. Jason Moses, a military police officer with the 557th Military Police Company at Camp Humphreys, said Sanchez should take some of the blame himself.

“If he was the commanding general, isn’t it his job to plan the war, advise? That’s my take on it. The generals advise the president on the military things, and they come up with a plan.”

At Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Pohlkotte disagreed with Sanchez’s assessment of the war.

“I think what we are doing is for the best,” he said. “We are working to help the Iraqis build a better army, so they can protect themselves.

“I don’t think anything has failed,” Pohlkotte continued. “I’ve got total respect for everyone who has served over there, and in the end, I think what we are doing over there is going to be for the best.”

Carlos, a soldier who left Iraq on Sept. 28 and was vacationing in Seoul before returning to the States, had an opposite opinion.

“I believe him,” Carlos, who declined to give his last name, said of Sanchez.

He said the troop “surge” started earlier this year to bolster U.S. forces to counter the insurgency in Iraq isn’t working and things got worse during his 14 months there.

“We’re losing soldiers every day,” he said.

But instead of blaming the U.S. administration, Carlos reserved his frustration for the Iraqis. “We do their job,” he said. “They just sit back and watch.”

Army Sgt. Barry Johnson, assigned to Yokota Air Base, said at this point in the war it really doesn’t matter whether Sanchez is right or whether he should have come forward while in uniform.

“I’ve been deployed to Iraq three times, and he’s right: there is no end in sight,” Johnson said. “But we’re there, and we have to stay there because we have an obligation to the Iraqi people.

“I think a lot of people should have spoken up sooner,” Johnson added. “This war is putting a tremendous amount of stress on the soldiers, and there are people dying over there every day.”

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, Staff Sgt. Aaron Tripp, of the 35th Communications Squadron, said he wasn’t buying Sanchez’s take.

“This ‘no-end-in-sight’ thing is crap,” Tripp said. “There can be an end in sight. We just need to buck up and do what is necessary and stomp out the insurgency that everyone gives so much credit to. It’s a question of what we’re willing to do. Since we’re already there, we need to finish the job.”

Both Tripp and Senior Airman Ben Cornelius, 22, also of the 35th Communications Squadron, said Sanchez should have spoken up sooner if he believed the U.S war strategy was failing.

“I think the job of generals and admirals is to stand up for their forces and project a non-biased opinion of how to achieve the president’s order,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius said he spent six months in Iraq and was in Ramadi when the Marines started improving the security situation there.

“Ramadi used to be a hellhole,” he said. “The Marines are cleaning that place up. If we work with the local leaders, we make huge progress.”

But, he added, he thinks U.S. forces have done all they can and ought to pull out of Iraq “immediately.”

“It’s now up to the Iraqis,” he said. “We secured the country from outside threats. It’s all up to the government.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Bryce Dubee, Franklin Fisher, Chris Fowler, Will Morris, Jimmy Norris, Ashley Rowland and Jennifer Svan contributed to this story.

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