First, some background on these surveys. The Defense Department started surveying soldiers to get an idea of their behavioral and mental health (this included questions about morale) in the wake of a surge in the number of suicides in July, 2003. In 2003, there were 24 suicides by American soldiers in Iraq. The number dropped to nine in 2004 a 62.5 percent reduction. The rate of suicides is also worth noting: In 2003, the suicide rate among soldiers involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom was 18 per 100,000 soldiers. In 2004, the rate was 8.5 per 100,000 soldiers. This is a 52.8 percent reduction.
Now, lets look at the morale figures, and get to the real story. The 2003 survey indicated that 72 percent of soldiers considered unit morale to be low compared to the 54 percent in the most recent study. In other words, 25 percent fewer troops consider morale in their units to be low.
What was also ignored was that when asked about their own morale, the numbers shifted. In 2004, only 36 percent considered their morale to be low, compared to 52 percent in 2003. This is a reduction of 30.8 percent. In other words, while there was a problem, and the situation had been difficult in 2003, in a years time, things had improved significantly. Of course, events like the Presidents visit on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, the capture of Saddam Hussein the next month, and the transfer of sovereignty in June, 2004 also helped. The first was a unique case, but the other two were major signs of progress in the mission that the soldiers had been given and ones not ignored by the media (As many smaller signs of progress have been). The addition of more comforts (like air-conditioned sleeping quarters, better food, and an easier time communicating with those at home), better training and support (particularly access to mental health services), and combat becoming less intense and less frequent have also helped improve morale.
In both cases (suicides and morale), there was marked improvement from 2003 to 2004. However, reading the AP versions of this story would leave a much different impression. In many cases, this is a case of the media going for the worst-case scenario or an if it bleeds, it leads approach (car bombings tend to draw more interest than efforts to teach Iraqi kids how to play baseball). In a pattern that has characterized the press coverage of Iraq, the media is often ignoring or downplaying the facts that show the situation is improving. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Recent media reports on American troops morale have painted a misleading picture making things look worse than they are. For instance, AP reports have focused on the fact that a majority of soldiers have said unit morale is low. While factually correct, it did not tell the whole story.