Leadership: December 8, 2003


Paying attention to troop morale has always been seen as a good habit for combat commanders. The war in Iraq is unique in that it is being fought under a media spotlight, which creates additional morale problems. Moreover, the Iraq operations are the most stressful kind, involving irregular fighters operating among a supportive civilian population (the pro-Saddam Sunni Arabs.) But there are many ways to improve morale. Using techniques developed during, and after, the Vietnam war, "force protection" (building bases that will keep the troops safe) is not much of a problem. Email and inexpensive long distance phone service allow the troops to keep in touch with the folks back home. But in a trend that can be traced back to World War II, leave (vacations, in this case during war time) have also proved popular (with the troops and their families) and useful (does wonders for morale and troops effectiveness). But one problem that arose, mainly because the media jumped on it, was the money the troops had to pay to get from the three U.S. airports soldiers. returning from the Iraq for their two week leave, were deposited at free of charge. It was still costing, on average, about $400 per soldier to get from that airport to their home, and then back again. Since the U.S. is spending over $60 billion on military operations in Iraq for one year, taking $55 million to pay for troops leave door to door seemed a good move (from a PR, as well as a morale, point of view.) The military has never paid for travel expenses when troops got time off from combat. During World War II, troops who had time off were left to wander towards the rear and find women, whiskey and whatever for their R&R (Rest and Relaxation.) During the Vietnam war, troops could go to other Asian cities for their time off (although a few managed to sneak back to the US, on their own nickel, for a short visit.) However, the new Department of Defense policy is not unique. The Germans, of all people, had a liberal leave policy for combat troops during World War II, and the troops got a free ride on the trains that provided nearly all the long range movement of people during the war. After World War II, as Allied experts studied how the German army managed to maintain such high morale almost to the end, it turned out that this leave policy was one of several important factors. 


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