by Dr. Bill Smith: Before proceeding it is only right to say that as a 22 year veteran, I am by nature a “hawk” and support all efforts to stop the enemies of America. However, I already saw one war – the Vietnam War – mired down by bureaucracy and lack of direction. [For those who prefer using the term “Vietnam Conflict,” tell it to the American families, friends of the veterans who served and lost 58,159 comrades in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia plus all those who died from war related issues after that “conflict.”]
Most career military have served under Presidents with whom we did not politically agree. Some Presidents were more competent than others. Most Presidents and Defense Secretaries who had not served in the military have made decision or failed to make decisions that resulted in the wasting of military resources and lives. Although not always understood by the general population, military leaders clearly understand that the military is both a tool in defending America including America’s economic interests and a tool of diplomacy. However, when a president lacks declared interest or focus during a time of war – or major deployments with people at risk, military casualties increase and troop morale suffers and leads to more losses.
The Times Online is reporting a story about “American troops in Afghanistan losing heart.” It is like “deja view” – a scene from the past when leadership and adequate direction was not shown by prior Commander-in-Chiefs and Secretaries of Defense. A few excerpts from the article:
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taleban [sic, Taliban]. Many feel that they are risking their lives — and that colleagues have died — for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, . . . “They feel they are risking their lives for progress that’s hard to discern,” . . . “They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through.” The soldiers are, by nature and training, upbeat, driven by a strong sense of duty, and they do their jobs as best they can . . . admitted that their morale had slumped.
“We’re lost — that’s how I feel. I’m not exactly sure why we’re here,” . . . “I need a clear-cut purpose if I’m going to get hurt out here or if I’m going to die.” . . . Asked if the mission was worthwhile, . . . “If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don’t.” The only soldiers who thought it was going well “work in an office, not on the ground”. In his opinion “the whole country is going to s***”.
The battalion’s 1,500 soldiers are nine months in to a year-long deployment that has proved extraordinarily tough. Their goal was to secure the mountainous Wardak province and then to win the people’s allegiance through development and good governance. They have, instead, found themselves locked in an increasingly vicious battle with the Taleban [sic, Taliban].
They have been targeted by at least 300 roadside bombs, about 180 of which have exploded. Nineteen men have been killed in action, with another committing suicide. About a hundred have been flown home with amputations, severe burns and other injuries likely to cause permanent disability, and many of those have not been replaced. More than two dozen mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been knocked out of action.
Living conditions are good — abundant food, air-conditioned tents, hot water, free internet – but most of the men are on their second, third or fourth tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, with barely a year between each. . . . The men are frustrated by the lack of obvious purpose or progress. “The soldiers’ biggest question is: what can we do to make this war stop. Catch one person? Assault one objective? Soldiers want definite answers, other than to stop the Taleban [sic, Taliban], because that almost seems impossible. It’s hard to catch someone you can’t see,” . . .
“It’s a very frustrating mission,” . . . “The average soldier sees a friend blown up and his instinct is to retaliate or believe it’s for something [worthwhile], but it’s not like other wars where your buddy died but they took the hill. There’s no tangible reward for the sacrifice. It’s hard to say Wardak is better than when we got here.” “We want to believe in a cause but we don’t know what that cause is.” . . . The soldiers complain that rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties mean that they fight with one arm tied behind their backs. . . “You get shot at but can do nothing about it. You have to see the person with the weapon. It’s not enough to know which house the shooting’s coming from.” . . .
The constant deployments are, meanwhile, playing havoc with the soldiers’ private lives. “They’re killing families,”. . . “Divorces are skyrocketing. PTSD is off the scale. There have been hundreds of injuries that send soldiers home and affect families for the rest of their lives.” The chaplains said that many soldiers had lost their desire to help Afghanistan. “All they want to do is make it home alive and go back to their wives and children and visit the families who have lost husbands and fathers over here. It comes down to just surviving,” . . . “If we make it back with ten toes and ten fingers the mission is successful,” . . . “You carry on for the guys to your left or right,” . . .
Lieutenant-Colonel Kimo Gallahue, 2-87’s commanding officer, denied that his men were and insisted they had achieved a great deal over the past nine months. A triathlete and former rugby player, he admitted pushing his men hard, but argued that taking the fight to the enemy was the best form of defense. . . . Above all, Colonel Gallahue argued that counter-insurgency — winning the allegiance of the indigenous population through security, development and good governance — was a long and laborious process that could not be completed in a year. “These 12 months have been, for me, laying the groundwork for future success,” he said. . . .
These reported comments depict more than just complaints by G.I.s. They are a clear signs of bigger issues both at the DOD, in the force structure and support of today’s military, and with the direction of the war as defined by the President of the United States. As for the field commander on the record comments about his belief in the mission, this was expected but it is not a measurement of success. However, while failing morale and expressions like “you carry on for the guys to your left or right” are both true and admirable, they are also a definite indicator of failed purpose and direction.
As heads up, the following comments are directed to what appears to be an often AWOL (absent without leave) Commander-in-Chief: Mr. Obama, you choose to run for President of the United States. And, the American people elected you to be president. Most Americans know that a “chief” responsibility of the president is being Commander-in-chief of the military. It is not being the commander of the American people. While you have “fiddle around” tripping off to other countries expressing your regrets about the United States or to another location to promote or sign a bill that could have been done efficiently right in the Oval office; while you wasted time trying to recruit the Olympics or taking time for another sports event or White House party; while you expend a disproportionate amount of your time on agendas which have or will send the United States further into debt and on efforts to reshape the social fabric of America, you are not focused on your primary responsibility of being Commander-in-Chief.
American military are dying or at risk because of your lack of leadership. Members of the military understand sacrifice and giving their lives for a greater cause. However, they do not understand dying without purpose or a clear objective. Often they die for their comrades but they do not wish to die for absentee leadership or an undefined mission.
Mr. President, above all else, (except possibly for those who feel they must engender themselves to you for their jobs and their agendas or who happen to hate America) people on both sides of domestic issues expect you to complete your primary duties as president. The United States of America has men and women in harms-way risking America’s chief treasure – American blood. For “Pete’s sake” – Wake-up! You are the Commander-in-Chief! It cannot be delegated; nor should it continue to be ignored! It is a lonely sacred responsibility. Mr. President, no matter how important you believe your other agendas to be, you must focus on your primary responsibility as Commander-in-Chief!