Troops' wish list: Straight talk from commanders, better phone and e-mail access
Stars and Stripes October 21, 2003
Blistering heat, lurking dangers and long separations are some things military leaders can do nothing about in Iraq.
Troops understand this.
But there are some issues leaders can address, according to troops in Iraq questioned by Stars and Stripes. Here are the most-mentioned items that troops on the ground said would improve their lives.
¶Mid-tour leave: If there is single, tangible thing that leaders could do to improve morale, it’s the mid-tour leave policy, hundreds of troops told Stars and Stripes in interviews and in the questionnaire. “I have been away from my family for almost a year and a half,” one sergeant wrote on a questionnaire. “That is too long. I have seen my wife and kids for a total of 35 days since last year. We soldiers need a break.” The military in late September kicked off a “Rest and Recuperation” policy for exactly that reason. Troops on 12-month orders will be able to use 15 days of annual leave.
¶Hard rotation dates: Troops want to know when they will go home. Many said they resent being left in the dark.
“Even criminals know when their time is up,” said 20-year-old Spc. David Rhoten with the 926th Engineer Group at the 101st Airborne Division headquarters in Mosul. “All I want is a date. A ‘no-later-than’ date would do more for morale than anything. Right now, all we have are guesses and rumors.”
¶Clarified mission: Since the end of major ground combat on May 1, many troops say their mission has become muddled.
“We have no mission,” wrote a 33-year-old sergeant in the Army Reserve’s 459th Engineering Company at Camp Dogwood. When the unit worked with Marines during the war, it “successfully built two assault float bridges for them. We saw combat the entire time.” These days, however, it’s a different story. “For the past month or two, we have done nothing.”
¶Beer rations: Troops asked to have what was available in past conflicts. “Soldiers are treated with little to no respect as adults — no sex, no porn, no alcohol,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Reynolds, 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, at Blai Field in Al Kut. “In wars past, these things being accepted as normal adult activity did not stop us from successful accomplishment of the mission and actually provided for an escape.” Spc. Jonathan Colton, a 20-year-old infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Kirkuk Air Base, put it simply: “Just give me a nice cold six-pack of Corona. Then I’d fight for another six months.”
¶Better telephone and e-mail: In some camps, phone and Internet cafes are sprouting up. In other places, troops are still frustrated. “E-mail sucks,” wrote one sergeant in Tikrit. Lance Cpl. Thang D. Pham, with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines at LSA 7, wrote: “The single thing that I think increases a unit’s morale is to be able to contact loved ones. I think the best way for that is a phone center.” A 101st Airborne Division officer in Mosul who is also a Persian Gulf War veteran compared the phone services in the two conflicts; he said phone service was better during the first war more than a decade ago. “That’s almost criminal,” he said. “There’s no excuse for how absolutely terrible our phones are.”
¶Improved mail delivery: Most troops say mail delivery has steadily improved, but some areas still have complaints. “I’ve got 12 packages out there somewhere that I know have been sent — some of them as long as 18 weeks ago,” said Spc. Victor Ferenzi, a 1st Armored Division medic with the 1st Battalion, 37th Infantry Regiment in Baghdad. Adding insult to injury, he said, is pilfering of packages. Of those that arrive, he said, “every one of them has been ripped open and have things missing, usually batteries, CDs or magazines.”
¶Improved Stars and Stripes delivery: “I wish we could get Stars and Stripes sooner than we do. We get them a week or two late,” wrote a 45-year-old staff sergeant from 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation in Mosul.
¶Boots and uniforms: “We need boots,” said one 29-year-old sergeant in 4th Infantry Division. Like many troops, he was issued two sets of desert uniforms and tan combat boots.
It’s not unusual to see soldiers wearing the green woodland fatigues because their desert uniforms have fallen apart from heavy use or they never received the desert fatigues. A soldier at Camp Dogwood said she was issued boots a size too large because that’s what was available. As a result, she said, she battles chronic blisters and discomfort.