Soldiers are up front about what needs to improve in Iraq.
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...
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.”
I've got to say I especially agree with that last statement. We live in the communications age and yet there are only two telephones available for the soldiers in CPT Patti's entire battalion...hence it is about every two weeks she gets the opportunity to call.
I think Army planners need to understand that today's soldier has grown up with cell phones and the internet. Being out of touch has never been an issue. I believe soldiers expect better and frankly, I believe the Army can do better.