Leadership: May 3, 2004

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The 20,000 American soldiers in Iraq who recently had their tours of duty extended by 90 days, will have some of the sting removed by an existing program that pays troops spending more than 365 days in a combat zone a thousand dollars a month in additional pay. This rule was implemented last year for the smaller number of specialists (especially Special Forces) who were spending a lot more time in combat zones. But the tour extension, and extra pay, does not affect everyone equally. Many troops hardly ever leave the well guarded base camps. While these areas are the target of mortar and rocket attacks, most of the casualties are still being taken by the combat troops who are always out on patrol or making raids, or transportation and maintenance troops who are on the road a lot. In places like the Balkans, the troops complain about being cooped up most of the time in base camps, but not in Iraq. 

There is also the problem of combat fatigue for the combat troops. Past experience, starting in World War II (when extensive records were maintained) found that troops began to lose their effectiveness after about 200 days of combat. Over the last sixty years, training, equipment and leadership have improved. Thus a combat soldier can still be effective for longer than 200 days of combat. For example, the existence of relatively safe base camps in Iraq, and lots of amenities (from video games to decent food) take a lot of the edge off the stress of combat. But even with all that, after a year in a combat zone, a lot of troops are ready for an extended change of scenery. But combat fatigue is still a constant danger. One of the units held over was the 98th Combat Stress Center Medical Team.

 


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