Should Batiste have criticized Rumsfeld? 1st ID troops weigh in
WüRZBURG, Germany — With former 1st Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. John Batiste joining the handful of retired generals calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, some 1st ID troops who served under Batiste in Iraq differed in their opinion of the former commander’s criticism.
Last week, Batiste echoed about a half-dozen other retired generals who have gone public with what they characterize as Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of the war in Iraq and micromanagement of military affairs in general.
The head of the Pentagon is in need of a “fresh start,” Batiste said in an interview with CNN. “It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense.”
Batiste commanded the 1st ID through an Iraq deployment in 2004 and 2005. Some 1st ID soldiers interviewed by Stars and Stripes this week defended their former division leader and the right he has to criticize Rumsfeld, while others said it does not help the war effort.
None, however, would state how they feel about the content of Batiste’s criticism.
Some soldiers and officers agreed to speak with Stripes only on condition of anonymity.
“He can say whatever the hell he wants to say,” said one 1st ID officer outside the shoppette at Würzburg’s Leighton Barracks. “He was a great commander, and he genuinely cared for the soldiers. And once you’re a civilian you can say anything you want. That’s freedom of speech.”
Some soldiers have been talking about the “bashing” among themselves, the officer said.
One staff sergeant at Leighton said Batiste and the others have gone about airing their grievances in the wrong way.
“[Batiste] should call [Rumsfeld] up and tell him to his face,” he said.
Something is wrong when subordinates don’t tell their commanders what is going on, said 1st ID Sgt. Robert Perez, a member of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
“We paint the battlefield for them, and they should do the same,” he said, adding that the criticism from Batiste and other generals came too late to help the war effort in Iraq. “I don’t agree with it, not this late in the game. It’s just not valid anymore.”
The military urges noncommissioned and commissioned officers to keep their commanders apprised of combat conditions, and the generals who advise Rumsfeld, Perez said, should repeat that frankness.
Also at Ledward on Wednesday, 1st ID Staff Sgt. Shawn Brooks said it was not right for Batiste to speak out against Rumsfeld.
“I think it will hurt morale,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair for them to criticize, especially being at war.”
Even though Batiste and the other generals are retired, they are still primarily identified and affiliated with the military, Brooks said.
“For someone who’s recently served, it has more of an impact,” he said. “If it was someone from 10 years ago, that would be different.”
While the words of the former 1st ID commander are being talked about in GI circles to some extent, many soldiers aren’t too concerned, said a private first class from the 3rd Brigade at Ledward.
“Lower enlisted don’t care about politics,” he flatly stated.
But three 1st ID, 2nd Brigade NCOs spending a lunch break outside at Ledward said Wednesday that they were glad to see Batiste speak up.
“A lot of us that do fall under the political ring are happy that someone is standing up for something,” said one sergeant first class. “We finally have people standing up and getting our backs.”
The NCOs were evasive on what they thought of Batiste’s critique in particular.
“President Bush is still our commander in chief,” one sergeant first class said before adding, “I back Gen. Batiste 100 percent.”
Regardless of the criticisms, many deployed troops don’t have time for the wordplay that goes on stateside, said one of the NCOs.
“We don’t give a [expletive] who’s in the White House,” he said. “We’re trying to come home.”
After stating that she respected Batiste and Rumsfeld, Spc. Hope Nisbet of the 1st ID’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company said that the criticism leveled by Batiste should not have a demoralizing effect on soldiers.
“It gives us an opportunity to examine our thoughts and how we feel about it,” Nisbet said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to grow.”
Foglesong: Retired generals have a right to speak out
Retired Air Force Gen. Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong told a West Virginia newspaper that mistakes were made in the Iraq war and that retired generals have a right to speak out about it.
Foglesong, former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said oversights by civilian officials at the Pentagon led to the insurgency in Iraq, according to an article that appeared Monday in the Charleston Daily Mail.
“I do believe there were errors made in the strategy in the entire process, and I think the administration has admitted to some of those,” Foglesong is quoted as saying in the article.
He did not, however, go as far as six retired generals, who last week called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. The paper reported that Foglesong did not directly criticize the secretary.
Foglesong, who was named president of Mississippi State University last month, said the retired generals “want what’s best for the nation” and “it’s within their rights to say whatever they want.”
He told the paper a partisan-free public discussion about the handling of the war would be beneficial to the country.
“There were mistakes over there, and that should be vented,” Foglesong told the Daily Mail. “If I were to make those mistakes in the military, I would expect my boss to ask me what I was doing. We are a nation of accountability.”
Foglesong said officials made the mistakes by overestimating the amount of Iraqi public support for the insurgency, disbanding the Iraqi army and placing the heavy load upon the U.S. military to rebuild the country.