Attrition: Sailors, Airmen and Iraq

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September 27, 2007: The U.S. Navy and Air Force have become resigned to having over 5,000 of theirpersonnel stationed in Iraq, providing support for army troops. The "in lieu of" sailors and airmen are given several weeks of ground combat training and sent off to, in theory, do combat support jobs the army doesn't have enough people for. But often, these non-army troops end up doing more dangerous security work, at bases, check points or, most dangerous of all, on convoy escort.

Complaints from sailors and airmen have worked their way up the chain of command, and now their generals and admirals are asking for a written agreement with the army, covering what these sailors and airmen would do (ideally, the technical jobs they were trained for) once they got to the combat zone. The army disagrees with this, pointing out that a lot of army personnel, trained for something else, end up doing the same jobs the sailors and airmen get. It's always been that way, at least in the army.

While many sailors and airmen are glad to be able to contribute to the fight in a direct way, many others are dismayed at the danger and sometimes dicey living conditions. However, the navy and air force are currently downsizing, so everyone realizes that going to Iraq is an important way to avoid getting laid off. But some sailors have not re-enlisted because of the chance they would be sent "downrange" to a shooting war.

The army troops appreciate the help, but also envy the fact that the sailors serve only six months, and the airmen only four. Sure, they might be back in a year, but army troops serve 12-15 months at a time, and often come back as well.

The air force and navy also complain of the expense, as they pay their people who are in Iraq or Afghanistan. But you can't complain too loudly. There is a war going on, the army is doing most of the fighting, and taking most of the casualties. A general or admiral going public, in a big way, with complaints about this, would be committing career suicide. Once you are a general or an admiral, you are expected to get with the program, and stick with it. Speaking out of class is a big no-no at the top.

 


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