Morale: Desperately Seeking The Elephant


November 3, 2009: Many young American infantry soldiers stationed in Iraq are disappointed at the lack of combat. These guys are in for four years, and they hoped to get a little action, as in some once-in-a-lifetime combat. The troops know the odds of getting killed or mutilated are low (at least compared to previous wars, the casualty rate in Iraq is about a third of what it was in Vietnam), so there's not a great deal of fear about "not coming back." The upside is appealing, with the prospect of exciting stories to last a lifetime, and maybe a few decorations to confirm it all..

Most eagerly sought is the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge), a large device worn above the ribbons on your uniform jacket, and a sign to everyone else that you've seen the elephant (been in combat with the infantry). But in another typical reaction, the NCOs who have been in combat, are not eager to get back. The risks are real, and all that violence is hard on the nerves.

Meanwhile, the infantry units in Iraq have it pretty easy. They live in large bases, out in the countryside. Troops live in air conditioned trailers, only go out on patrols a few times a week, and then for a few hours each time. At other times they go out to help with reconstruction projects. But there aren't a lot of Iraqis out in the country, and they tend to appreciate the American help.

Meanwhile, the young troops scour the military press for hints of when their unit will be sent to Afghanistan. With the army trying to keep units in the U.S. for two years before sending them back to a combat zone, the young cherry's wonder if they will ever get a chance to see the elephant.


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