In Iraq, clueless commanders and
fobbits (troops who spend most of their time in base camps) are a major cause
of low morale among combat troops. While the risk of getting hurt in combat is
low (last year there were 7,000 dead and wounded, or about five percent of the troops),
most troops get some exposure to personal danger. This year the casualty rate
is closer to four percent, but the number of dead has increased. This is
because the troops are operating more in neighborhood where the terrorists
(mostly Sunni, but some Iranian backed Shia as well) are more numerous, and
have more control over the civilians. That means it's easier to place roadside
bombs, which are now causing about 80 percent of the casualties. The terrorists
are not dumb, and avoid getting into gun battles with American troops.
While taking casualties hurts morale, over 60
percent of troops know someone who became a casualty, a major irritant is what
happens on base. Only about a third of the troops go off base on a regular
basis. Every day, ten of the thirty or so combat battalions will be out on a
raid or other mission. That, plus dozens of smaller patrols and up to a dozen
special operations (Special Forces, SEALs, Delta Force) operations. Actually,
most of these operations take place at night, when there are fewer civilians
about to get caught in the cross fire. Everyone spends most of their time on
one of the bases, which are actually quite safe. At least from enemy fire.
About a quarter of the troops hardly ever leave the base, Commanders obsessed
with how the troops dress are a major complaint, and have been for generations.
The World War II "Willie & Joe" cartoons made fun of this annoyance. This
bothers the combat troops a lot more than the fobbits.
Another ancient complaint is how the fobbits (the
guys who rarely leave the FOBs, or Forward Operating Bases), hog all the
goodies. Something good comes into the PX (the army version of a general
store), and the fobbits scarf it up first. It's rare for a commander to be
astute enough to make sure some of these goodies are put aside for the guys
working outside the wire. Same with access to Internet Cafes, or any form of
entertainment. The troops doing most of the fighting, are getting the least
support when it comes to living conditions. While many troops have air
conditioned, two person sleeping quarters, many are still in tents or barracks
holding a dozen or more people. The lack of privacy, and envy of what the
others have got, grates and annoys. The combat troops accept it when they know
there is no choice (like in small temporary bases), but not when they see lazy
commanders screwing them out of ignorance or indifference.
It doesn't have to be this way. During World War
II, for example, the Germans and Russians paid a lot more attention to favoring
the combat troops. The rule was simple, whatever was available, the combat
troops got first dibs. In the Russian army, combat support troops who ignored
this rule were often shot by their officers (who feared having the same thing
done to them by annoyed superiors). In the American army, even commanders with
combat experience themselves, or who were otherwise effective combat
commanders, often missed the boat when it came to idiotic, morale busting,
rules and regulations. The initiative for change has to come from the top.
General David Petraeus, had a reputation for looking after the combat troops
when he was a division commander. But now he is in charge of a lot more, and
nasty habits that are very hard to undo.