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Troops’ turn to speak: Generally positive answers not surprising, analysts say

By PATRICK DICKSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 19, 2006

WASHINGTON — Generally positive responses on the survey questions shouldn’t surprise anyone, according to military analysts.

“I think that they feel they are in the company of those who liberated Germany and Japan,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Va.-based, nonpartisan military think tank. “The Iraqi government is no longer a danger to its neighbors or its people.”

Retired Army Col. Dan Smith, military adviser for the peace-lobbying group Friends Committee on National Legislation, keyed on the wording of the question, “Fighting this war for America is …” where the majority responded “worthwhile” or “very worthwhile.”

“If they’re told that we’re fighting them there instead of at home, then they’ll respond positively. If they’re told we’re there to establish Iraqi society, then not so much. There’s nothing wrong with the question, but it does change the response.”

Junior enlisted personnel gave mostly lower marks on all topics, and that’s to be expected, Pike said.

“The senior enlisted have a more realistic view. They’ve already raised their hand a few times, whereas the junior guys — half of them will get out [after four years]. They’re not cut out for [career] soldiering.”

He said this may also explain why lower-ranking troops feel that the unit morale is lower than their own morale: Those who are not long-term soldiers will complain, and others hear that within the unit.

“I’d be worried if the junior enlisted weren’t complaining,” Pike said.

On unit morale, Stripes’ survey in Iraq showed that half of E-1s through E-6s said their unit’s morale was “somewhat” or “very” low, while 82 percent of officers said they believed their unit’s morale was “very” or “somewhat” high.

The Pentagon has different numbers, both higher and lower, when they’ve done similar surveys, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin.

“Compared to other paygrade groups, junior enlisted (38%) are more likely to rate their unit’s morale as low — the Stars and Stripes finding of “half” is higher,” Martin wrote in an e-mail to Stripes. “Fewer senior enlisted (25%) and officers (43%) rate their unit morale high compared to the Stars and Stripes findings of about 80 percent. Generally, we suspect that the Stars and Stripes sample is more polarized owing to its (understandably) less-scientific sampling methods.”

Respondents to the Stars and Stripes’ survey had to have seen the questionnaire in the paper. The responses by each group are representative of that group, if not for the population as a whole, according to Stripes’ marketing director, Meg Irish. And, according the polling company, the results are scientific and valid, she said.

Support from home

Seventy percent view support from home being strong, and that doesn’t surprise analysts.

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist and professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., says this stands in stark contrast to Vietnam.

“The big difference from Vietnam is that the anti-war movement, to the extent it exists (for Iraq), defines itself as pro-soldier,” Moskos said.

Smith, the lobbying group advisor, and an infantryman in Vietnam, had praise for the Army and the Marine Corps for taking care of the troops’ families back home.

The two services “have succeeded in addressing a lot of home-front problems. The military community is looking out for families and [helping them resolve their] problems.

“That increases their sense of belonging, and since individuals have daily contact with the Internet and cell phones,” that helps morale, Smith said.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the nonprofit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which lobbies for legislation helping veterans, said troops would have different responses depending on whether the “worthwhile” question referred to the war in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the war on terror.

He added: “It’s refreshing to see the voice of the troops in the dialogue; I think there’ve been too many people speaking on their behalf — DOD spokesmen and politicians — and it’s good to see them being asked these questions.”


What they said

See the results of Stars and Stripes' survey of deployed troops on the topics of:

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